Incumbents are hard to beat in congressional electoral races. U.S. Rep. In 2008, Jason Chaffetz managed to pull off an improbable upset and win Utah’s 3rd Congressional District seat over heavily-favored incumbent Chris Cannon in the Utah State Republican primary.
BYU professor Chia-Chi Teng is trying to take a page out of the same playbook to defeat Chaffetz, now playing the role of the entrenched incumbent, during Utah’s upcoming state primary election.
Teng, a BYU associate Information Technology professor, hopes to thwart Chaffetz’s bid for a fifth term in Washington, D.C. Chaffetz, a BYU alumnus, was placekicker for the Cougar football team from 1988-89.
Teng was born in Taiwan after his parents fled China during communist turmoil after World War II. Teng immigrated to the United States in 1989 and pursued a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Washington.
Teng’s campaign has focused on promises of fiscal responsibility and smaller government in efforts to set himself apart from his opponent. In an interview, Teng accused Chaffetz of abandoning his conservative principles, pointing to his December 2015 House vote to help pass a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill funding the government from January through September 2016.
“I see that he has joined the party establishment in following the party’s agenda more than what the people in Utah really want, and here we want smaller government, responsible government, less spending and (less) debt,” Teng said. “But in the last few years, he keeps voting for those bigger omnibus spending bills and big budgets and more debt and bigger government.”
Chaffetz acknowledged to the Salt Lake Tribune in May that “Nobody likes voting for an omnibus,” even calling it “one of the worst ways to govern,” but defended his support of the spending bill “because it increases spending on the military.”
Chaffetz has not yet responded to the Daily Universe’s request for an interview.
Teng remains cautiously optimistic about the upcoming primary while acknowledging he faces an uphill battle in seeking to upset Chaffetz.
“Obviously the odds are heavily in his favor,” Teng said. “But I’m optimistic, I think we’re doing a good thing by having more discussion on (Chaffetz’) performance and if (he’s) actually doing the things we voted him to do.”
Outside his time as an information technology and computer science professor, Teng spent 17 years working as a software development engineer and manager for Microsoft.
Teng’s task is winning over voters as a political unknown. The lack of a background in politics doesn’t have Teng worried, however. “People kind of tend to overplay the experience in politics,” Teng said. “If you like the big bureaucratic mess that we’re in, then of course experience is positive.”
Teng initially failed to make it onto the primary election ballot after falling 4 percent shy of the required 40 percent delegate threshold at the 2016 Utah Republican State Convention. However, a new wrinkle in state election laws allowed Teng to find his way onto the primary ballot after collecting 7,000 signatures of 3rd District voters.
This is the first time Chaffetz has competed in the state primary since he challenged and beat Cannon in 2008, winning 60 percent of the vote.
The winner between Chaffetz and Teng will go on to face former senior vice president of Overstock.com, Democrat Stephen Tryon, in the November general election.