Hail and Farewell
By Patrick F. Cannon
Orin Hatch, born in the old Pittsburgh of smoke and fire like yours truly, has announced he’s retiring from the Senate after serving seven terms representing Utah. When he fades into the lobbying sunset, he will have been the longest serving Republican in history.
In 1976, he ran against incumbent Democrat senator Frank Moss, who had served for a mere three terms. Nevertheless, Hatch ran as a strong supporter of term limits, promising he wouldn’t overstay his welcome. One supposes he decided that 42 years was the proper limit for him, even if Moss only deserved three.
Now, Hatch has had a decent record in the Senate. He was great friends with Ted Kennedy, despite having little in common politically. Perhaps their greatest collaboration was to pass legislation to provide expanded health care for young children. On most matters, he voted as you would think any loyal Republican would.
Had he left after five terms, he wouldn’t have been among the first to openly support Trump’s candidacy. I confess I was surprised when he did so. As a Mormon (all of Utah’s congressional delegation are Mormons), I would have thought Trump’s record of marriage infidelity and heroic locker room boorishness would have caused Senator Hatch to recoil in horror. Instead he put partisanship ahead of principle.
Permit me a moment of cynicism. Would Hatch have endorsed Trump if he had already decided to retire after this term was up? I notice that the President’s most vociferous critics in the Republican Party are members who won’t be seeking reelection. Or did he decide to retire now in embarrassment at what his endorsement has wrought? Had Hatch actually believed in term limits, the President would have been some other Utahn’s problem.
Although I understand the arguments against having term limits, I don’t find them compelling. What have the experience and wisdom of our current legislative leaders – at both the Federal and state levels – given us? Have they really solved the health care problem? Immigration? The deficit? Has any important legislation been passed on a bipartisan basis?
If we had reasonable term limits – on the Federal level, I would suggest six terms for the House and three for the Senate – none of the current leadership would still be in office. We would have said a fond farewell to Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell; and to their tired ideas and rhetoric. Most of the Illinois delegation would be gone too, including the Senate’s preeminent attack dog, Dick Durbin.
For Illinois, I would suggest four two-year terms for House members and three four-year terms for Senators. I believe this would sweep the current leadership clean. Maybe fresh leaders could actually try to solve the state’s serious fiscal problems. If their political ambitions weren’t satiated, the departed could always run for statewide or Federal offices. Maybe the voluble Durbin could be replaced by the taciturn Madigan?
Of course, I’m under no illusions that the politicians are going to impose term limits on themselves. In Illinois, as you may know, they have done everything they can to prevent a term limit initiative from appearing on the ballot. They do this, of course, because they know that it would easily pass, as it has in 15 states thus far. In Illinois, just a little democracy is considered quite enough.
Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon