“District voting rights will be dead for some time,” says Tom Davis, the retired Virginia Republican from Fairfax County who, in his final years in Congress, ran the D.C. subcommittee, mostly as an ally of the District (in 2006, he co-sponsored Norton’s bill to give the city a vote in the House). “This was the two-year period to get that done. It was a short window. The window closed because the Democrats would have had to swallow gun language they didn’t like. Now they’ll get that anyway.”
They’ll also get Chaffetz in the job Davis used to have. He confirms that he wants to stay on the committee, and lead it, if there’s a power shift.
“Absolutely, I want to keep this job,” says Chaffetz. “It’s a great constitutional responsibility. And I love this city. D.C.’s been good to me. The people have been good to me.”
Chaffetz would come to his perch as a telegenic, well-liked, media-savvy Republican star. Six-feet tall, trim, and athletic, he looks a decade younger than his 43 years. He’s as adept at eliciting murmurs of agreement from Glenn Beck and the Christian Broadcasting Network as he is at trading talking points on CNN. When House Republicans invited Obama to speak to a retreat in Baltimore in January, Chaffetz was the only freshman given the microphone, and the only member who got the better of the president, with a more-in-sorrow-than-anger comment about the lack of transparency in the health care fight. When Stephen Colbert interviewed him—a rite of passage that can make conservative Republicans look like humorless morons (Georgia’s Lynn Westmoreland has never lived down his failure to remember the Ten Commandments on air)—Chaffetz charmed him by triumphing in a leg-wrestling contest.
In fact, Chaffetz charms everybody. Norton calls him “witty,” even as she prays he doesn’t get a chance to run his committee. D.C.’s shadow representative, Mike Panetta, rhapsodizes about the attention Chaffetz pays at town-hall meetings—even as he calls him a “meddler who does not let local decisions stand.” Former At-Large D.C. Councilmember Carol Schwartz, a fellow Republican, calls him “very controlling” and worries that he’d “roll back the very hard-won progress we’ve made under Home Rule.”
But no one has a good read on him. Asked what he likes about D.C., Chaffetz talks about the hybrid bike he takes on long rides, and the restaurants he’s a regular at: “I’ve been to every Five Guys and Matchbox in the city.”
None of that convinces anyone fretting about Republican rule that they can trust him.
After all, the first thing Washington learned about Chaffetz was that he didn’t want to live here. When he won his seat in his mostly rural, very conservative district in central and western Utah, the congressman-elect learned that dozens of his future colleagues saved money by sleeping on cots in their offices. Inspired, Chaffetz threw down $44.89 at a hometown grocery store and purchased the folding bed that would take up the least possible space in his new digs.
That $44.89 bought huge amounts of free publicity. He won a nerdy kind of stardom on CNN, when the network asked him to produce a video and text “freshman year” diary of his life in Obama’s Washington. Chaffetz was photographed bringing his cot from Utah to Washington, and he filmed a short YouTube video so supporters could watch him opening it up and putting on his white sheets and fuzzy blanket. (“That’s a well-made bed right there,” he told his audience.) In one video, he straddled his cot and explained to viewers why he wanted to scuttle a bill that would give voting rights in Congress to Washington and add an extra seat for Utah.
“When you’re in Washington, D.C., you’ll see license plates that say ‘Taxation Without Representation,” says Chaffetz. “I think we all recognize that that is fundamentally flawed. But what’s paramount in this discussion is the U.S. Constitution, and the Constitution explicitly says that voting rights are reserved for the”—he quickly formed air quotes with his hands—“several states.”
The video segment represents everything you need to know about Jason Chaffetz: showmanship, affability, and a no-negotiation stance on D.C.’s biggest priorities.
Jason Chaffetz's Cotside Chats
Timeline: D.C. under Home Rule
The nation's capitol, Washington, D.C., has governed itself since 1973—kinda. Despite the passing of the Home Rule Charter, which delegated power to an elected mayor and 13-member D.C. Council, Congress still oversees the District. View a timeline of Home Rule in D.C., along with a video series of Congress' greatest hits on the District, from Boy Scouts to Needle Exchange.
Tell Provo What To Do!
If Jason Chaffetz, from Utah, can tell the District how to run its government, why shouldn't Washingtonians vote on how his hometown works? For example...
In Utah County, where Provo is located, the rules for marriage licenses specify the applicants must be “male and female.” Clearly, the District’s enlightened attitude toward gay marriage hasn’t made its way out west yet. Let’s put that to a vote. (After all, at $50 a pop, the licenses could help the county keep its books balanced—and every little bit helps!)