Sen. Orrin Hatch held a tele-town hall meeting Tuesday night with a lucky few members of his constituency. Media are seldom invited to these intimate exchanges, but this time a SLmag editor/voter somehow got invited!
As you know, Utah GOP representatives and senators have been assiduously avoiding face-to-face town halls after Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart’s appearances erupted in anger as voters confronted their representatives about issues ranging from healthcare and immigration to public lands.
Salt Lake magazine explored this shockingly un-Utah anger that has emerged since Trump’s election.
Doing phone-y town halls is the perfect solution for craven politicians because it allows them to control constituents’ input and block follow-up questions—not to mention hang up, if necessary.
In short, Hatch turned what is supposed to be a dialog between constituents and their representative into Hatch working through a list of talking points that included how the Obama administration and “the radical environmentalists” killed the coal industry, that Bears Ears National Monument is “needlessly destroying rural economies,” along with full-throated support for everything Donald Trump is doing—along with a big dose with loving praise for the president and his family (“You’ll never meet a nicer young man,” Hatch said of a Trump son).
Still, Hatch had to duck some tough questions. One caller wanted Trump to adhere to the Constitution’s emoluments clause. (Hatch says Trump’s kids running his businesses is adequate divestiture). Another complained that the Utah legislature’s historic emphasis on coal, ranching and oil over high tech stunted economic growth (Hatch says Utah has plenty of high-tech). And one caller was concerned about the Wasatch Front’s poisonous air in light of Trump’s EPA rollbacks (“[Trump] wants a good environment as much as you and I do,” but “the EPA’s ozone levels are unattainable”).
Hatch, who once was reasonable senator, learned that Utah’s right wing, which controls the state’s caucus-and-convention system can be vicious. It ousted the late Sen. Bob Bennett and came close to tossing Hatch, too. He’s never gotten over it and Hatch’s minions know that 46 percent of the state voted for Trump and a solid third of those voters are Trump diehards. Though Orrin has hinted he may not run for re-election (if he can pick his successor), he’s keeping the option viable by sucking up to Trump voters.