As U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch prepares to retire from the political stage, the Utah GOP paid tribute to the longest-serving Republican senator in history during an election-night watch party Tuesday in downtown Salt Lake City.
Hatch made his brief appearance at the Vivint Smart Home Arena shortly before businessman and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was declared winner of the race to take Hatch’s Senate seat. Hatch thanked Utah Republicans Tuesday for supporting him.
“It's been the privilege of my life to represent this great state,” said the seven-term senator, speaking to a roomful of fellow Utahns at the GOP midterm watch party. “I love you and I appreciate you, and thanks for letting me serve you for 42 years.”
A video presentation about Hatch’s legacy began with comments from the late President Ronald Reagan, who said: “When he got to Washington, Orrin Hatch didn’t forget the folks back home.”
Romney appeared at the state Republican party festivities only on television screens. But Hatch made a personal appearance before an appreciative crowd.
“There will never be another Orrin Hatch,” said Don Peay, a GOP activist and co-founder of the national advocacy group, Hunter Nation. “He was a statesman. He was relentless in achieving things, very well respected on both sides.”
Hatch, 84, is best known for his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including his robust support U.S. Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brent Kavanaugh during the Trump administration. He also supported immigration reform through legislation that aimed to give young adults brought to the country illegally as children to get legal immigration status. Known as the DREAM Act, the bill ultimately failed.
As Senate President Pro Tempore, Hatch is third in line to be president. Hatch’s long record of accomplishments gave his fans a lot to remember during Tuesday’s celebration of his career.
“I don’t know if there’s a politician in Utah that hasn’t been impacted by Orrin Hatch,” said state Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy. “He has been such a powerful influence to all of us over the years. Our country is so lucky to have Orrin Hatch serving us for these many years.”
Utah’s senior senator created a fund for people affected by nuclear testing in the West, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, that has awarded nearly $2.3 billion in payments to more than 35,000 people. He has also been an advocate for reducing the federal debt and a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
For many years, Hatch was also applauded for his bipartisanship, including his friendship with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. In fact, Hatch’s songbook includes music honoring Kennedy’s marriage and legacy.
Hatch ran for president in 2000, but lost the GOP nomination to Texas Republican Gov. George W. Bush.
Over the past two years he has been a staunch ally of President Donald Trump. Hatch’s relationship was considered crucial to Trump’s move last December to cut 2 million acres from two national monuments in southern Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Karece Thompson, vice chair of the Utah Black Republican Assembly, said he had just one message for the retiring senator: “We have to continue your work.”