Sunday, June 15, 2008

How Utah's Next Third District Congressman Jason Chaffetz Became A Mormon, A Republican, And A Phenomenom

The Jason Chaffetz phenomenom took many Utahns by surprise. However, his unexpected victory at the May 10th convention did not surprise Chaffetz himself.

And on June 15th, 2008, the Provo Daily Herald published a lengthy and definitive article exploring the evolution of the Jason Chaffetz phenomenom (it is my opinion that the Daily Herald provides the best pure qualitative journalism in Utah). What's of particular interest is his evolution during his early adulthood. He actually didn't become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until after he started attending Brigham Young University. And he didn't work for the Dukakis campaign for ideological reasons.

Here's the defining segment of the story:

Before his baptism into the Republican Party, Chaffetz joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His path to Mormonism began when he was a "skinny geek" playing high school soccer in California. The school's principal approached a group including Chaffetz and begged for a place kicker for the football team. On a whim, Chaffetz tried out and won a place on the team. "I became an exceptionally good kicker," Chaffetz said. "I have leaned on that experience the rest of my life."

He was recruited by Brigham Young University, where he hit 89 of 94 point-after attempts and 16 of 25 field goals from 1988-89. Fellow place-kicker Earl Kauffman remembers Chaffetz had a habit after every extra point and field goal. "After a kick, boom, his helmet came off," said Kauffman, who played with Chaffetz for two years at BYU. He and other teammates would tease Chaffetz about straightening his hair for the camera.

During his time at BYU, friends said he owed it to himself to read the Book of Mormon, a volume of LDS scripture. He did and came to believe in it, and he decided during his senior year that he was ready to be baptized. But before he could, he was told, he would first need to hear the missionary discussions that outline the church's beliefs. Chaffetz suddenly found himself the teaching target of young men from the nearby Missionary Training Center who would come eight at a time in vans to test their evangelical aptitude.

"I never saw the same missionary twice," Chaffetz said.

Where it took dozens of missionaries to complete his religious conversion, it took just one man -- Ronald Reagan -- to complete his political conversion less than a year later. Previously, Chaffetz was not only identified as a Democrat but was co-chairman in 1988 of Dukakis for Utah. Chaffetz's father, John, had married and divorced Kitty Dukakis before she married then Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. Chaffetz worked hard at the campaign, Kauffman said.

"As an 18-year-old kid, I was like, 'You do what?' "

Chaffetz says his time with the Dukakis campaign was more about family connections. "I was in my late teens," he said. "I wasn't driven by any political issues." Whatever the reason, Chaffetz worked hard enough and was committed enough that Kauffman says, "I was really surprised when I saw him as a Republican with the governor."

After finishing college with a degree in communications, Chaffetz joined Nu Skin as an intern. He said working during the 1988 presidential race gave him a chance to explore his political beliefs, and what he discovered is that he fit in better with those on the other side of the aisle. So when Reagan -- then a former president -- came to Nu Skin as a motivational speaker in 1990, Chaffetz's conservatism was already firmly in place.

Chaffetz worked with Reagan's advance team and ended up spending most of two days with the former president as he spoke and held meetings with Utah dignitaries. It was a again a matter of Chaffetz being in the right place at the right time when he ended up in Reagan's meeting with LDS Church leaders, one year to the day after Chaffetz had been baptized. As Reagan later prepared to board his plane at the airport, Chaffetz asked for an autograph, which he got along with the 40th president's tie clip and cuff links.

Chaffetz got married shortly after the Reagan visit, and he and his wife, Julie, now have three children. He would stay at Nu Skin for nearly 11 years, moving up the ladder and holding titles such as managing director of marketing and product development and general manager for Australia and New Zealand. Since leaving in 2000 to pursue other opportunities, he has worked at several other companies including at Covol Fuels, now Headwaters Energy Services. He now owns his own marketing business, Maxtera, with his brother Alex.

This account effectively explains one controversial issue involving Chaffetz. First, his work for Dukakis was clearly driven by family connections rather than ideology. His father was once married to Kitty Dukakis. So his supposed "attachment" to the Democrats was shallow and opportunistic to begin with. Consequently, he cannot be viewed as a "crypto-Democrat".

Ironically, in 1996, Chaffetz wrote a letter to the editor of an unspecified newspaper lauding Chris Cannon, his current opponent, as the best candidate for Third District Congressman at the time.

Chaffetz' next serious foray into politics came in 2004, when he landed a job as Governor Jon Huntsman Jr's director of communications. Apparently, Huntsman spotted greater potential, and invited him to become a full-fledged campaign manager. When Chaffetz protested that he'd never run a campaign before and wasn't qualified, Huntsman responded by saying he'd never run for governor before, either, but that together they'd figure it out. After Huntsman's victory, he asked Chaffetz to stay on as chief of staff.

Chaffetz' tenure proved rocky, and he left the job a year later. Several people close to the situation say that while Chaffetz was a dynamic campaigner and loyal to the governor, he struggled with the grind of day-to-day government and alienated some lawmakers in the process. Chaffetz admits he was in over his head because his understanding of the legislature wasn't as good as it should have been, impairing the relationship. Yet he remains on the Utah Valley State College Board of Trustees and asserts he has learned from his mistakes as chief of staff. [Ed. Note: So Chaffetz stumbled a bit as Huntsman's chief of staff. So what? Everybody fails at something at one time or another - mortality is a testing ground, after all. If we had no adversity to face on Earth, the value of the mortal experience would be canceled.]

And now, Jason Chaffetz seeks the opportunity to prove he has learned from his prior mistakes. Despite the fact he lives a mere two miles outside the official boundaries of the Third District, he's captured the hearts of a growing number of Republicans and Independents. Had it not been for another former opponent, David Leavitt, throwing his support to Chris Cannon at the last moment, Chaffetz would have won the nomination outright on May 10th.

And Chris Cannon is definitely hearing footsteps. The Deseret News reported that a recent KUED debate between Cannon and Chaffetz got quite testy, and Cannon threw a hissy fit after it was over. Chris Cannon senses that, unlike Matt Throckmorton in 2004 and John Jacob in 2006, Jason Chaffetz can end Chris Cannon's political career during the primary on June 24th.

In a way, it's a shame. Chris Cannon is a decent guy who's a solid conservative in many areas. But living in Mapleton, he is not nearly as exposed to diversity and illegal immigration as those living in Salt Lake and Utah Counties. Consequently, he simply doesn't get it on immigration. Yes, he wants to protect our borders to some degree, but he also wants to provide a path to citizenship for many illegals. That's called "amnesty" - and ordinary everyday Utahns aren't having any of it.

On the other hand, Jason Chaffetz has been exposed to more diversity and illegal immigration, and he better understands the problem. Consequently, his path to citizenship for EVERY illegal leads back OUTSIDE the United States. Even those who would qualify for one of his proposed temporary work permits would have to leave the United States at some point. Read the comparison between the two on immigration, posted HERE.

Chris Cannon - catch and release. Jason Chaffetz - catch and deport.

Thanks to the Gazelem blog, here is a list of counties in the Third District and how to register (or renew your registration as a Republican):

- Salt Lake County Voter Registration
- Utah County Voter Registration Q & A (form - pdf)
- Juab County Clerk’s Office (email)
- Sanpete County Clerk’s Office (scroll down for voter information and this form pdf)
- Millard County Clerk’s Office (Just use the same form as the other counties)
- Sevier County Voter Registration Information (form - pdf)
- Beaver County Clerk’s Office (form -pdf)


Holly said...

Thanks for the blog and the great commentary. I agree totally and am getting ticked off at "james" and BBKing on other sites who sound like broken records. Jason is a much better choice for Congress. Cannon's not evil, but we can do better in the third district. I can't wait 'til next Tuesday night!!

DaveGarber1975 said...

Agreed, Holly. Cannon's done some good but he's also let me down a bit too often. By contrast, Chaffetz seems to be more in line with my conservative views than Cannon has proven himself to be. I think that we can do better. Chafettz has my full support on June 24th.

gazelem said...

Thanks for sharing this excellent analysis of Jason. I agree that he is the better candidate. I can't wait until Tuesday to vote. See you at the polls.