Sen. Orrin Hatch was recently named the second-highest-ranking official of the U. S. Senate, president pro tempore. Now in his seventh term, Hatch, a BYU alumnus, recently took time to answer questions with Universe reporter Ashley Robinson.
Robinson: Civic activity is difficult for many young students. What would you recommend as the most meaningful way for young people to get involved?
Hatch: I love seeing the involvement of young people in the political system. We see it here with congressional interns who come from all over the country to learn about the process and leave with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the importance of civic activity, but the first step to getting involved is to get informed. Take a political science class, read the newspaper, engage in conversations about public policies, participate in community activities and vote. For young people, civic activity is as important now as it will ever be, as you have a real opportunity to improve your community.
R: Many are talking about the age gap, now manifest in both major parties. Have you heard or developed any possible creative “top down” solutions to help younger and older citizens engage in the political process?
H: The 2014 elections a few months ago gave us great hope for the next generation of leaders in the country. You all saw Rep. Mia Love, just 39 years old, win a seat in Congress, where she will play a major role in the policy discussions that govern our country. Rep. Elise Stefanik, from New York, just became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at age 30. Tom Cotton was just elected to the Senate from Arkansas at 37 years old. I believe the common thread you’ll find in each of these young leader’s stories is that they found issues that they cared about, sought out leadership opportunities in their schools and communities and stayed true to their principles.
What makes our system of government special is that there is no “top down” solution, that anyone of any age, who has conviction and is willing to work hard, can play a part in leading and affecting change.
R: In a recent editorial for the Washington Times you issue a call to Republican senators to “engage in meaningful policy discussions rather than wasting most of our time on partisan grandstanding and cheap political theater.” You clearly aren’t mincing words here, and your tone represents a frustration with “Washington” that resonates with many Americans. Would you either point to an experience in the past where you have tried to lead this charge by example or explain how you plan on doing so in the future?
H: You’re absolutely right, I haven’t minced words on this subject because I think that what’s happened to Congress in the last eight years, and the Senate in particular, is an absolute tragedy. In my career I’ve seen the Senate at its best and at its very worst, and in recent years it has been at its very worst.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with both Democrat and Republican colleagues to pass over 750 pieces of legislation in my career. Sometimes that meant working with liberal Democrats such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Henry Waxman in the House to pass important bills that required significant compromise from both sides. When Rex Lee, the former president of BYU and father of my colleague Sen. Mike Lee was nominated for solicitor general of the United States, Ted Kennedy and I were serving on the Judiciary Committee together, overseeing the confirmation process. Kennedy came to me and said, “Orrin, we’re not going to let him through.” And I said, “Yes, you are. Trust me on this one, you’re going to like him.”
They voted him through, and Kennedy came to me later and told me I had been right. We were great friends, even though we could not have been further apart on the political spectrum. That relationship helped us to be effective. I have great relationships with many of my Democratic colleagues, and I hope that working together will help us to fix the tone and partisanship that has made our chamber so dysfunctional. I truly believe that’s possible.
R: In your response to the State of the Union, you cite the immigration bill you introduced with Marco Rubio, among others, two weeks ago, and call on the president to support the measure. What positive effects do you predict that this bill will have on the American economy and the lives of those wishing to build their futures here?
H: The tech sector is the fastest-growing part of our economy, and we’ve seen studies that show that for every job created in tech, four additional non-tech jobs are created. We’ve seen this boom in Utah as our favorable business environment has attracted some of the biggest tech firms in the world. This bill will make it easier for tech companies to hire the engineers and high-skilled workers they need, many of whom have been educated and trained here in the United States. Study after study has shown us that adding high-skilled workers into our economy will lead to growth in our economy and innovation, and this bill will responsibly address that opportunity. Our immigration system is broken; nobody can deny that. I believe that this is the first step in the long process of fixing it.
R: Your involvement in discussions regarding the proposed gas tax sets an optimistic tone of bipartisanship and productivity, where, in recent years, has not seemed the case. With your prominent role on the national stage, what points of policy (characteristically bipartisan, or otherwise) would you like to see addressed in the next several years?
H: My approach on a wide range of issues is to find places of common ground, where many of us agree, and work from there. That has been my strategy on immigration reform, tax reform, tech policy, trade and virtually every other area that requires legislative solutions.
R: Any final statements or points you would like me to address, or that you feel would resonate with the faculty and students at Brigham Young University?
H: Work hard, and be good to your family. Politics can be a distraction from the best way you can improve others’ lives, which is to participate in your community and directly lend a hand where you can. Take the opportunity to participate in acts of personal service and do good works. You’ll be surprised at just how much of a difference you can make. And go, Cougars!