Loose Lips

A Right-Wing Darling Now Oversees D.C. (And Why His Tea Party Ties May By Washington’s Best Hope.)

Loyal residents of hometown D.C. love to flaunt how little they care about the goings-on in federal Washington. Usually, the provincialism a way of disproving a national stereotype about the District: Hey, America, behind all that monumental marble, we're still a normal city where people care about zoning and crime and neighborhoods and don't need Uncle Sam's help, thank you very much.

But this fall, as the District carried out its own electoral campaign, the lack of discussion about the national election seemed more like an exercise in wishful thinking: If we don't talk about looming change on Capitol Hill, we can pretend we're on the cusp of statehood rather than prepare to again debate federal needle-exchange bans like in the bad old days.

That make-believe reality ended last night. Thanks to the District's goofy constitutional status, the whims of voters who don't live here mean there will be a new congressional committee chair in charge of overseeing D.C. But thanks to the myopia of the District's political establishment, voters and officials have spent almost zero time contemplating how to butter up, battle with, or get around this new boss, a right-wing representative from a rural Utah district named Jason Chaffetz.

Think I'm kidding? A month ago, my colleague Alan Suderman chatted up Vincent Gray about the prospect of a GOP Congress. By this point, Gray had been the city's presumptive mayor for two weeks. Adrian Fenty was history and there was no serious challenger in the general election. So, given the long, ignominious history of congressional conservatives playing to the base back home by meddling with the city's budget, would Gray's transition team be pondering how to deal with a hostile Congress?

“I have not addressed that,” Gray said at the time. “I actually would like to think that we will continue to have…Democratic control of the House—we’ll face that when we get to it. But no, I haven’t appointed anyone to address that issue.”

Gray was hardly alone in that regard: The city's election season briefly turned the likes of Ron Moten, Sulaimon Brown, and Michael D. Brown into household names, but it featured scarcely a peep about Chaffetz. The D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, whose job description involves fighting encroachments on Home Rule, acknowledged that she'd only had one conversation with Chaffetz since he'd arrived in the House as an obscure minority-party representative.

It's not like Chaffetz's politics are a secret. He led congressional efforts to undo same-sex marriage in the District. Though the now-dead D.C. voting right compromise would have given his native Utah an extra congressional seat, too, Chaffetz blasted the measure as unconstitutional. A certain local weekly paper gave him as Best of D.C. award for "Best Congressional Meddler."

One of the nice things about the District's orphaned status is that pols are liable to be honest about their plans for us—after all, there are no actual voters here who need to be placated with weasel words. So when Chaffetz chatted with Dave Weigel for a Washington City Paper profile earlier this fall, he was forthright about his intentions: He'd like to undo gay marriage. He thinks D.C. autonomy is unconstitutional. He thinks an ideal fix for the city's Home Rule troubles would involve retroceding most of the District into Maryland.

Chaffetz's political situation back home should give District loyalists even more reason to worry. A proto-Tea-Partier, he's mulling a challenge—from the right—against incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch. That's a situation that will incentivize him to win points with ultraconservatives back home. And for a guy whose constituents are 2,000 miles away, beating up on liberal Washingtonians is an easy way to do it.

Of course, Weigel's piece also offers a possible silver lining for worried Washingtonians: As a darling of Tea Party activists, Chaffetz may also face voters who take all that "Don't Tread on Me" stuff seriously—and might react poorly to the spectacle of their congressman telling other people what do with with hard-earned local tax dollars. In a place like Provo, Utah, "No Taxation Without Representation" might find a surprisingly friendly audience.

Appealing to the sense of philsophical consistency of angry rural voters half a continent away, though, seems like a bad bet. For now, though, it seems like the only strategy District leaders have going. Let's hope Gray, Norton, et al., come up with a better one soon.

To read Weigel's full piece on Chaffetz, click here.

  • oboe

    As a darling of Tea Party activists, Chaffetz may also face voters who take all that “Don’t Tread on Me” stuff seriously—and might react poorly to the spectacle of their congressman telling other people what do with with hard-earned local tax dollars. In a place like Provo, Utah, “No Taxation Without Representation” might find a surprisingly friendly audience.

    Oh, please. You talk as though teabaggers actually act out of some earnestly held philosophical position. When they say, "Don't Tread On Me" they mean exactly that: Don't tread on me.

    The only rights they're interested in protecting are their own.

  • Skipper

    Norton ignoring Chaffetz is going to come back to bite DC in the ass in a big way. Her ego is about to get a major whacking.

  • http://www.colonelkspeaks.blogspot.com Colonel K

    Pointless article. The fact that Americans were willing to stand packed like sardines at the Rally for Sanity, but can't be arsed out to show support for their nation's capital says something. This town sucks. Deal with it.

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  • American Rogue

    "Retro-ceding most of the District into Maryland" opens the logic door to questions such as, "What really is the significant difference between retro-ceding and keeping those lands where Federal buildings are located as Washington and making the rest the State of Columbia?" "Would this not be consistent with the intentions of the founding fathers on three issues: The Federal Government Seated in a location free of State Influence; taxation WITH representation; the constitution being a living document - id est the amendment process.

  • bob

    If he didn't want to tread on anybody, he wouldn't be the one trying to repeal DC laws. Utah can go fuck itself.

  • JennynDC

    It's interesting to see what he will try to do. Will it be in his best interest to focus on changing DC during this appointment? Or would it be in his best interest (career wise, etc.) to focus on national issues or Utah issues? All in all, whatever he decides to focus on, he will have a lot of hoops to jump through before people get in line with what he might propose to change.

    It won't be easy.

    It frustrates that someone like Jason Chaffetz can rule over DC.

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  • Truth Hurts

    @ bob: Well put. Concise and to the point.

  • Skipper

    Probably means we'll see the return of the DC vouchers program.

  • Keith B.

    Maybe instead we can stop paying Federal taxes? That solves the Taxation w/out Representation problem, doesn't it?

  • Crazy

    We might also see the end of the Gay marriage.