Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, talks to reporters at the KSL Broadcast House in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
Those who enter the political arena deserve scrutiny but also thanks for being willing to serve.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz has asked people to take him at his word for why he will not seek a sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. He may also resign his seat early, he said, because he wants to spend more time with his family.
Politics and intrigue tend to go together, so it is tempting to speculate about alternative reasons or motivations, especially when Chaffetz hints he may seek political office again in the future. But absent any evidence to the contrary, Utahns should grant that a life split between home in Utah’s third congressional district and a cot in an office in Washington is taxing on family life.
They also should put politics aside and thank him for his service, as do we.
Utah has a tradition of representation in Washington whose breadth of influence far outweighs the state’s population and geographic remoteness. Regardless whether you agree with Chaffetz’ policies, public statements or votes, it is undeniable that he has become a well-known national figure.
Part of that comes with the chairmanship of the influential House Oversight Committee. Also, he is known, for better or worse, for his cable-ready personality, and the ease with which he conducts television and media interviews.
Consequently, for nearly a decade Chaffetz has been a mainstay of Utah political life. Yet, he also has been a lightning rod. He’s taken political heat in recent weeks for insinuating that Americans may need to choose between the latest iPhone or buying health insurance, and he led contentious hearings involving Planned Parenthood and Hillary Clinton. He has been criticized, in town hall meetings and elsewhere, by those who feel he should take a greater role in investigating President Trump.
Clearly, Chaffetz is unafraid of criticism, which has added fuel to the speculations as to why he made this announcement nearly two years before his term ends.
But while the speculating, and the scrutiny, continues, attention now should turn toward choosing a successor.
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Should Chaffetz resign early, that person would be chosen through a special election. There is no shortage of candidates in both major political parties. For the health of the republic, it’s vital that the job be filled by a qualified person of character, with a strong commitment to ethical principles. That person doesn’t necessarily have to become a media personality, but he or she should be prepared to leave a mark in Washington through honest representation of a great district in one of the nation’s greatest states.
The most recent political season was a contentious one, especially the race for president. We hope, if it becomes necessary, that a special election will offer an opportunity for robust debate and a campaign centered on issues, civility and policies, not personalities.
In the meantime, however, it is proper to thank Chaffetz for his years of service and to wish him well as he retreats, at least for a time, from public view to be with his family.