Third Congressional District Race: Jason Chaffetz and Karen Hyer
By Jenny Brundin
Salt Lake City, UT –
There's a history of political shape-shifting in Utah's third congressional district. The incumbent Republican was a one-time Democrat and the Democratic challenger is a lifelong Republican. Aside from that intrigue, the race in this solidly conservative district, which includes Utah County and the west side of Salt Lake County, holds few surprises. KUER's Jenny Brundin reports on the race featuring two independent-minded candidates.
Ready to start his freshman term in Washington two years ago, Jason Chaffetz showed up at the airport, with a cot, for sleeping in each night in his office, instead of renting an apartment.
CHAFFETZ: I don't want to spend 20-30 thousand dollars for a place that I'll never be in! We don't want to waste money. That's not what we're here to do. We're here to use it wisely, every dime of it.
The cot was worth every penny. It bought the freshman Republican free publicity and shortly after, a brighter spotlight: a CNN and FOX gigs, and even the Colbert Report. That's where he took on, and beat, Stephen Colbert in a leg-wrestling match. His easy-going charm not only has won Chaffetz a place in the media spotlight, it's made him a favorite among GOP leaders.
MONSON: I think he's the darling of the Republican Party right now.
Quinn Monson is the associate director of the center of elections and democracy at BYU. He says polls show Chaffetz a clear favorite among likely voters - by a long shot.
MONSON: He's behaving in ways that are very consistent with the ideology of his district and he's facing a challenger who while a nice person is kind of invisible. She is not raising a tremendous amount of money, she's not advertising widely and so it's the kind of race to win, Jason Chaffetz is not even going to break a sweat.
She is Democratic challenger Karen Hyer and she's not deterred by such prognoses. Hyer is a former farmer and rancher, a PhD who now teaches business ethics at BYU. Even as a Democrat, there's a reason she shares the ideology and values that appeal to this conservative district.
HYER ON SUNDAY EDITION: I've been a Republican my whole life, in fact I voted for this guy last time, in fact I didn't think I'd be sitting here with him (laugh).
On the set of KSL's Sunday Edition show, Hyer tells Chaffetz she voted for him two years ago. She laughs easily, but isn't afraid to go after her rival with gusto. Later she says she's disenchanted with what she calls Utah's one-party state.
HYER: I am conservative, I've been a Republican all my life, most of my friends are Republican, and a lot of my friends, women in particular, feel disenfranchised by the present Republican party.
So when conservative Democrats in Utah County came knocking on her door asking her to run, after careful thought, Hyer jumped in. She wants to see more deliberative, solution-based lawmaking than the partisan bickering she believes is destroying the country. Her top priorities if elected? Growing the economy and fiscal responsibility.
HYER: We are to a point in our history where our children are worse off than we were. Now this is new, and we've got to reverse that trend.
Hyer too, is passionate about bringing ethics to government. She refuses PAC money. She slammed Chaffetz for taking thousands of campaign dollars from the postal union. He heads up the Committee overseeing the postal service.
HYER: Access means legislation, usually in their favor.
Chaffetz's priorities, meanwhile, haven't wavered:
CHAFFETZ: Fiscal discipline, limited government, accountability and a strong national defense.
And he tries to vote in ways reflecting those principles. Yes on a bill authorizing $58 billion for NASA. But No to $26 billion for states for teachers jobs and Medicaid assistance. No on a bill to restore benefits to people who've been out of work for six months or more. As chair of the Republican's Sunset caucus, he's introduced bills to eliminate farm subsidies for Mohair, Irish development, and local parks.
CHAFFETZ: Somehow we got to restrain ourselves because we only collect about $2.2 trillion dollars but we're spending about $3.5 trillion, we got to figure out where to cut. And so I just pretty much say no to just about everything."
He's joined House Republicans on a moratorium on earmarks. Those are funds requested by members of Congress for specific projects. Chaffetz wants more transparency.
CHAFFETZ: The current earmark system as it's currently implemented, it doesn't work. That's why we ended up with bridges to nowhere and the 750,000 parking lot for Provo. That's just not the role of the federal government.
Chaffetz voted against the stimulus bill. He prefers slashing the corporate income tax, giving businesses regulatory certainty, and extending the Bush tax cuts The latter will cost about 3 to 4 trillion dollars. But Chaffetz says Republicans have a 10 year budget to get there. Entitlement reform is key, he says. That includes changes younger Americans. Asked if he supports privatizing social security, Chaffetz replies:
CHAFFETZ: We need to do things to encourage people to contribute their own money into the process in order to take care and secure their own welfare.
SOUND OF HYER TALKING ABOUT ETHICS REFORM AT CAMPAIGN EVENT
Democratic candidate Karen Hyer makes her case for ethics reform at campaign event after campaign event. Chaffetz doesn't even need to show up. She tries to appeal to voters with her pragmatic approach to fiscal conservatism. Hyer opposes privatization of social security, but says changes to the system are inevitable.
HYER: Raising the age is another possibility but when we have extremely wealthy people. I think at some point we're going to have to do some means testing in order to make it fair, and in order to have it even.
On health care, there are differences. Chaffetz wants to repeal health care reform. He believes states should manage their own reforms, and says the new law is lacking.
CHAFFETZ: It does not drive down costs, there are things we should be doing to drive medical liability costs, and we should be able to purchase health insurance products across state lines.
Hyer says Obama would veto any health care repeal.
HYER: So to me it's a waste of money and time to repeal it, especially when you have congressional power to change it.
The road to congressional power is a long one for political newcomer Karen Hyer. Especially with incumbent Jason Chaffetz so far ahead in the race. But she says, she'll keep running hard all the way to next Tuesday. That's when voters decide whether to return Jason Chaffetz to the nation's Capitol, and to the national spotlight.