February 15, 2013

Unyielding GOP politicians doing what voters ask

Nicholas Riccardi/The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this Feb. 7, 2013 photo, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, shakes hands with Richard Hart before a town hall meeting in Heber City, Utah. Chaffetz flew home from Washington last week to attend the town hall meeting. Many voters here and in similar communities elsewhere still want to do whatever it takes to stop President Obama, and the politicians they elect are listening. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)


Chaffetz also voted against aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy, saying the bill was larded with pork. He did vote to delay another debt ceiling confrontation until May, but says he won't budge on automatic spending cuts scheduled to kick in next month or on his opposition to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

"The perception inside the Beltway is dramatically different than in hometown America," Chaffetz said. "Most people in my district believe we've compromised too much."

Chaffetz's district stretches from the southern Salt Lake City suburbs and Provo, home to Brigham Young University, to the high valleys of Wasatch County. Nearly half of the county's 23,000 residents live in this town. Once an overlooked rural community far from the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, it has recently seen an influx of more liberal-minded residents drawn by its proximity to storied ski resorts like nearby Park City. In Utah, this place is almost a swing county. Nonetheless, it voted 3-1 for Romney in November.

Here's how things look from Heber City: Obama hiked taxes while pushing through his health care reform. Then he got another round during the fiscal cliff negotiations. Now he's making a third attempt during the latest debt ceiling standoff. Meanwhile, the federal budget has been trimmed, but only slightly. The debt is still huge. Republicans are folding at every turn.

"I'm sick of Republicans not sticking to their principles," said Tina Peterson, 45, who works at a resort in nearby Park City. She recently moved her family here from Arizona after the recession destroyed their construction business. A new arrival in Utah -- "I'm a Christian but not LDS" -- she sees Obama as the unbending force in Washington, not her own party.

"His ideology is what it is and he can stick to it," Peterson said. "We do the same and we get demonized."

Not everyone here wants to just say no.

"There's no sense in falling on our sword and throwing a wrench just to destroy things," said Aaron Gabrielson, chair of the Wasatch County Republican Party. Still, he added: "It doesn't seem like compromise has gotten us very far."

Jaren Davis, 53, a Republican Salt Lake City real estate developer who owns a second home here, sat in Chick's Cafe on Main Street and bemoaned polarization in politics.

"Both sides, right and left, with 24-hour news, they just need to get more fanatical to get on TV," said Davis, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the state Legislature. He noted that partisans have to cater to their extreme wing to win a primary — the same as winning the general election in this deeply red state.

Chaffetz held his town hall in a county education building. He began by giving a presentation on the weight of the federal debt. Voters asked about the value of the dollar, how to keep the federal government from converting more of the state's land to protected wilderness and the use of drones in the U.S. They also voiced their frustration about the president.

"Have you not found anything to impeach the president of the United States?" asked Jeff Riddle, 34, an attorney. "Losing a drone to Iran? Killing Americans with drones? Infringing on Second Amendment rights?"

Chaffetz asked for patience. He said the best course was to allow congressional investigations into possible administration wrongdoing, like the Fast and the Furious gun-running program, to continue.

"What is it going to take to make the change in Washington?" asked retired commercial airline pilot Robert Wren, 74. "Are we going to have to have a minor revolution of the people? Are we going to have to wait until the next election?"

Chaffetz said the problem is that Republicans haven't communicated well with voters. Later, asked if he ever felt pressure to back down, he acknowledged occasional disagreements with GOP leadership on whether to subpoena the White House.

"I don't know if we have stood up for ourselves as much as we should," he said.

Wren said he was pleased with his congressman's unflinching stance. "He's representing his constituents."

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