Some staffers work for a member of Congress just to get ahead: some staffers may like them, some may even hate them. But Orrin Hatch’s staffers loved him. The spirit of comraderie and teamwork was unique, and as he told everyone when they left his office, “Once a Hatch staffer, always a Hatch staffer.”
My favorite part of working for Sen. Orrin Hatch was when I got to spend, pardon the expression, “one-on-one time with dad.” (Of course, we referred to him by his initials OGH.) When I worked as his press assistant many years ago, I got that luxury whenever he had a particularly busy press schedule – like when there was a Supreme Court nominee or the week of the State of the Union.
The best times were when he had TV interviews in the rotunda of the Senate Russell Building. Whether he felt like a long walk, or a shorter trip in the Senate railcar, having the chance to spend that extra time with him was golden. Listening to his stories, his insights on the news of the day, or his advice on life was invaluable for a young man who’d been blessed with an opportunity to work in his office after just a few years a cub newspaper reporter back in Utah.
Easily the most memorable of these episodes came in early 2008, the day after LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley had died. I had written up a brief, glowing floor speech for Hatch, printed it out on the really good paper, and hurried with him to the Senate to watch him on the Senate floor. This was the only time I got to staff him in the actual historic chamber you seen on C-SPAN.
But when we got there, all ready to go, he turned to me and said, “Jared, you’ve written a wonderful speech here, but I think I’m just going to speak from the heart.”
Which of course, was his prerogative. The staffers work for the member, not the other way around.
The news that Hatch had himself passed over the weekend reminded me of this episode, and all the staffers who would accompany Senators and Representatives to the floor to eulogize him this week. I imagine the praise will be overwhelming, and the current rancor of the city will take a respite with fond tales of his many years of service, friendship, and patriotism.
Hatch never said anything bad about other members of Congress. He never talked down to any of his staff; indeed, the lower down you were on the totem pole in the office, the kinder he was to you. When I saw an opening for a committee press job that would have been a step up, I asked a colleague if I should apply for it. She responded, “You work for the nicest man on Capitol Hill – why would you leave that?”
So I stayed. Of course, eventually I had to move on – because I can’t have spent my whole career as a lowly press assistant, even in such a great environment: I had to move on for myself while clearing the way for others. And some day when someone is giving a eulogy about me, they will doubtless mention what a turning point it was to for my life to work for Utah’s longest-serving leader.
Because once a Hatch staffer, always a Hatch staffer.