IN OUR VIEW: Who has skill for Capitol Hill?
Daily Herald Editorial
Rep. Chris Cannon has been defending himself all year against various accusations from the challenger within his own party, Jason Chaffetz, but the real issue is who can get the best results in Washington.
Chaffetz says he will be dramatically different from Cannon, but it's hard to see how any conservative can do that. Check the ratings of congressmen by conservative groups, and Cannon scores 90, 95, 100 percent. It's virtually impossible to out-conservative Chris Cannon.
Chaffetz at times seems to be trying a little too hard to be different. Take one example: In an interview with the Daily Herald (online at heraldextra.com) Chaffetz said that Cannon and the Republican Party have failed on national defense. Asked how they had failed, he slid into a discussion about post-combat health care and education benefits for returning troops.
But then he frankly admitted that he knew nothing about the recent hot debate over the new G.I. Bill in Congress, which was pressed heavily to passage last week, 416-12, by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The bill would fully fund the cost of a public college education for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to the tune of $63 billion. Sen. John McCain opposes the bill because of the heavy price tag and because he believes it will erode the ranks of non-commissioned officers.
What's surprising here is that a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives would be completely uninformed about the details of a hugely significant bill -- and one that contains provisions he claims to support. You'd think Chaffetz would be following the news, at least, with respect to the institution he wants to join.
Or take immigration, the hottest of hot-button issues. Cannon has taken a lot of heat for backing President Bush's plan to reform immigration, but he can point to numerous votes for tighter border security.
Chaffetz decries illegal immigration and flays Cannon for alleged failures, but we haven't heard Chaffetz or anyone else lay out a realistic plan for moving at least 12 million people back to their home countries. It's a tough issue on which reasonable people can disagree.
Another bete noir is No Child Left Behind. Cannon and most Republicans once thought it was a pretty good idea. But it failed in many respects, and Cannon admitted it years ago. For Chaffetz to hammer Cannon for his initial support of No Child Left Behind is unfair. After all, Cannon isn't hammering Chaffetz for campaigning for Micheal Dukakis not so many years ago.
We've looked at Cannon's voting record and avowed stands, and we don't see much difference between him and Chaffetz in 95 percent of cases -- and no deal-breakers in the other 5 percent.
So again we urge readers to listen as the candidates speak for themselves online at heraldextra.com to get a more in-depth feel for their philosophies and abilities.
To make a good decision, voters need to think about who is better suited for life in the House of Representatives -- the day-to-day job of working with 434 other people of all viewpoints to move legislation through, or block it.
Cannon is sometimes faintly praised as being detail-oriented, as if he is not a big-picture person. We don't find that to be the case. Daily Herald staffers have grilled him on several occasions recently, and he showed not only that he knows the minutiae of legislation, he also has an impressive, wide-ranging vision of how government can change in a technological society.
Anybody who sits with Cannon, as we have done, cannot miss his grasp of issues, his affability and his inner drive. Such qualities suit him well for the job of congressman.
Unfortunately for him, his accomplishments are hard to convey in sparkly language. On the campaign trail, his detailed analyses can be a political liability.
Chaffetz, on the other hand, excels in the sound bite. Like a great propagandist, he doesn't swerve into details about how things are done. Rather, he sums up with generalities and, in Barack Obama fashion, stays maddeningly on message, using key words that are high on objective but low on logistics.
That's a skill not to be dismissed. But voters must assess its value. The question is whether he can translate his sound bites into action in an institution that tends to move at a deliberate, slow pace, where getting something done requires more carrot than stick. When Chaffetz told us that Congress needs Republicans to pound on podiums, the question immediately follows: Is that the way to be an effective legislator?
Overall, Chaffetz appears to be a strong political organizer with great potential and energy. The Republican Party is sorely lacking in young, personable, articulate candidates who will stand for conservative values.
But is Chaffetz right for this job right now? Being in Congress is much more about haggling over minute details of legislation than making big, sweeping speeches. Can he thrive in the real Congress if he were to be elected? His only stint in government, as Gov. Jon Huntsman's chief of staff, was both brief and rocky. Sources in Huntsman's administration and in the state Legislature indicated that "it was time for him to go."
Nor has Huntsman endorsed Chaffetz -- an interesting omission if Chaffetz was truly a stellar performer; but then the governor seldom goes out on a limb. We note that Sen. Bob Bennett, an undisputed solid citizen, has endorsed Cannon, as has Sen. Orrin Hatch, while Rep. Rob Bishop of the First District strongly praises his performance.
So the question lingers: Can Chaffetz succeed in Washington? The founding fathers designed the government to change slowly, and the growth of bureaucracy has made Washington even more frustrating for the idealistic or impatient. Many come to the city on the Potomac to make big changes but quickly learn to their dismay how hard that is.
And it takes time to learn the ropes. Chaffetz disdains earmarks as the epitome of pork-barrel spending, saying that until the system is reformed, he won't even ask for one. But that's not realistic. Federal money is often allocated for specific needs, and it should be -- an earmark for radar at the Provo airport comes to mind. Chaffetz is right that earmarks have gone wild, but that doesn't mean they can, or should, be abolished.
Chaffetz correctly says that overall fiscal discipline is needed in Congress, and to do that, you've "got to elect different people." But that doesn't mean that all the nation's problems can be plopped in Cannon's lap. There are, after all, various grades of Republican in Congress -- some on the right, like Cannon, and others in the center or even left of center, like Sen. John McCain.
We think it's fair to say that Cannon has held his own very well in representing Utah's Third District. It thus stands out as strikingly odd that Chaffetz chose to challenge Cannon instead of the Democratic representative from his own district, Jim Matheson. Given Cannon's pre-existing conservative record, unseating Matheson would have done more for the cause of conservatism.
The next Congress is likely to be Democratic, perhaps even more so than today. Will it be best for Utah to have a congressman who storms the barricades and possibly alienates himself? Or is it better to have a representative who can fight a kind of political guerrilla war, harassing and delaying the liberal wave through the use of House rules and procedures that take years to master?
Colleagues have testified that Cannon exhibits great skill at such backstage maneuvering. Sometimes a congressman's best work is not in the bills he passes but on those he quietly scuttles in the hallways and back offices.
Utahns will have to decide on Tuesday -- and again in November when the winner will face Democrat Bennion Spencer -- who will be best suited to dealing with the realities of the 2009 Congress.
To hear interviews with Rep. Chris Cannon and challenger Jason Chaffetz, go to heraldextra.com
There was a great opinion piece on the hotly contested congressional race in the 3rd Congressional District in the Daily Herald. It was nice to hear so many of my own opinions and stands on Chris Cannon and Jason Chaffetz confirmed. I included the entire thing for you to take a look at:
Who is Best for the 3rd Congressional District Reviewed by Candace Salima on Monday, June 23, 2008 Rating: