On the eve of the Hinckley Institute of Politics’ 50th anniversary, we remain dedicated to championing the vision of our founder Robert H. Hinckley: “Every student a politician.”
Unfortunately, in today’s hyper-polarized political climate, convincing our best and brightest young minds to enter public service is increasingly difficult. Indeed, a recent Pew study found that millennials are more skeptical of political institutions than any of the generations preceding them.
Accordingly, we as an institute wanted to highlight politicians making a profound difference in society with our inaugural “Politician of the Year.”
In Utah, there are a number of exceptional elected officials who served a 2014 worthy of recognition. Our noteworthy runners-up for 2014 include U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (in no particular order).
Sen. Hatch deserves acknowledgment for his decades of productive and bipartisan leadership culminating in his upcoming position as the Senate president pro tempore and his chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee — arguably the most powerful committee in the Senate.
Gov. Herbert merits recognition for championing Utah’s continued economic prowess, his pragmatic Healthy Utah policy, and his education innovation. He may be the 2014 people's choice winner as he was recently recognized as the most popular governor in the U.S. with a 73 percent approval rating.
Mayor McAdams warrants praise for his innovative Pay for Success initiative. His plan finances quality early childhood education through a partnership with Goldman Sachs and has received national attention. We applaud his data and policy-driven approach to governance.
But the Hinckley Institute’s 2014 Politician of the Year goes to U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz for his remarkable ascension to chairman of the United States House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Chaffetz consistently leads the Utah ticket for the Republican Party (he garnered a resounding 72 percent of the vote in the 2014 midterm election); however, his partisan popularity does not interfere with his pursuit of sound bipartisan governance. He introduced the bipartisan Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which sought to abolish per-country immigration quotas. Furthermore, he spearheaded a refreshing bipartisan dual-district tour with liberal Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Chaffetz also deserves praise for his tireless dedication to public accountability. He is well known for traveling to Washington, D.C., with a $45 cot to save his family costs and has been similarly exacting in his investigations into government waste. He spearheaded the initial investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi as well as into the more recent failings of the Secret Service — the latter of which led to the resignation of the embattled Director Julia Pierson. His thoroughness and professionalism ultimately won the respect of his colleagues and helped confirm his imminent position as the House Oversight chairman — leapfrogging several members with more seniority.
The meteoric rise of Chaffetz’s leadership is groundbreaking both on a state and national level. For Utah, he is only the third member of Congress to secure a full House committee chairmanship in the state’s history. Even for the nation at large, Chaffetz is one of the most junior members ever elected to lead a committee. Indeed, over the last 90 years, only five members with his level of seniority have held such a position. Chaffetz’s singular leadership is also demonstrated in the success of his legislation. He sponsored three bills that were signed into law during the 113th Congress — a particularly striking accomplishment since the 113th Congress has been the least productive in at least 40 years.
In conclusion, while admittedly it has been easy to be cynical of our political system this last year, we are optimistic that with inspired civic servants like Congressman Chaffetz, Sen. Hatch, Gov. Herbert, Mayor McAdams and many others, we can certainly hope for more effective governance, increased bipartisanship and greater youth engagement in 2015.
Kirk L. Jowers is director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. Ellesse S. Balli, the Communications and Academic Coordinator for the Hinckley Institute, contributed to this article.