The Man Who Challenged Orrin Hatch: A Look at a Dan Liljenquist Town Hall Meeting

After not having a serious challenger for his entire 36-year tenure as Utah’s U.S. Senator, Orrin Hatch is now facing his first primary battle since he won office in 1976. Hatch is the longest serving senator in Utah state history, but after failing to get the super-majority of votes needed at this year’s state Republican convention, Hatch is now facing former state senator Dan Liljenquist in Utah’s Republican primary on June 26.

Liljenquist held a told hall meeting in Provo, Utah on Saturday evening in an upstairs conference room at the city’s Wells-Fargo building. Outside the office building several college students stood waving “DAN Liljenquist for U.S. Senate” signs to passing traffic, some yelling “Honk if you love America!” As the event started upstairs about fifty people sat in attendance, not including the student volunteers who later came up. It was a Liljenquist-friendly crowd with most seeming to be decided supporters as many sported his campaign badges and t-shirts. But a few undecideds were there, and there was at least one Hatch supporter present.

Bain Capital & Mitt Romney

Liljenquist began his speech, complete with a few jokes about his last name and meeting his wife while studying at BYU. In giving his introduction Liljenquist made sure to mention his work at Bain & Company, which he refers to as “Mitt’s company,” although Mitt Romney had not worked at Bain & Company for almost a decade during Liljenquist’s brief tenure there. He later name-dropped “Bain” and “Mitt” several more times, although Liljenquist’s work at Bain was only a small part of the former state senator’s decade-long work in the private sector. Later in his speech Liljenquist stated that he was a “huge Mitt Romney supporter.” Romney, who ran the 2000 Salt Lake Olympics and used to have a vacation home in the state, is a beloved figure in Utah.

Audience photo of Liljenquist giving his speech at Provo town-hall meeting.

Entitlement Reform

In his town-hall address Liljenquist attacked Congress’ detachment from the American people, saying that the U.S. Senate has “lost its way” and that it was time to send new “fiscal leaders to Washington.” Liljenquist said that if elected he would first “use every ounce of my training at Bain Consulting and in the private sector to dive into the financial issues of our time,” to reform the nation’s welfare programs, to fix social security and medicare, and “to return our republic to what it was meant to be.” Programs like medicare and social security, Liljenquist argued, were best run at the state-level. “I am running on entitlement reform,” he emphasized.

The Budget & Congressional Term Limits

Discussing balancing the budget, Liljenquist said he will “propose reforms, not just amendments,” to accomplish the feat. He criticized other U.S. Senators, including Hatch, for their failure to commit to achieving a balanced budget during their tenures and accused them of “hypocrisy.” Liljenquist also promised that if elected he would not move to Washington, D.C., but that his family would stay in their Bountiful, Utah home, joking that they had just remodeled it. “We are not moving,” he reiterated. “When people move to Washington, they start representing Washington.” Liljenquist also committed to serving no more than three terms in the Senate if elected and that he would sponsor congressional term-limits. “This was never meant to be a lifetime gig,” he said.

No Federal Pension for Liljenquist

Liljenquist received his first applause from the audience when he promised not to take a federal pension, and he then promised to sponsor legislation that would eliminate pensions from congress. “Congress should not get a better deal than we the people,” Liljenquist  stated. “There is a disconnect of trust between Congress and the American people…and I am determined to change that.”

Regarding Hatch: “No One Senator is King”

Liljenquist lambasted Hatch, accusing him of constantly seeking more power and in each election asking to be reelected while saying, “I’m almost there.” Liljenquist rebutted, “No one senator is a king, no matter what seat he sits in,” and he accused Hatch of using the “politics of fear.” “No one senator is too big too fail, no one senator is too important to lose.” He then argued that the Senate was moving beyond its traditional leaders and that new relationships need to be forged with the future of the Senate. Liljenquist then name-dropped Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), and others, saying he “knew these guys.”

The Plane Crash

Finally in his speech Liljenquist told a personal story of a plane crash he had experienced in 2008 during a humanitarian trip to Guatamala where eleven others died. Liljenquist said his survival of that tragedy created an “urgency” for him to become involved in politics and help his community.

Audience Q&A

During the Q&A that followed Liljenquist’s speech most of the raised hands were softball questions from supporters. In response to one question, Liljenquist accused Hatch of “largely insulating himself from the people of the state” and “refusing to debate,” suggesting he was afraid of Liljenquist. While answering another question Liljenquist said “Obama has done one thing with absolute honesty,” to which one of the audience members shouted out “Golf?” Liljenquist laughed and said, “Maybe two things then.” Liljenquist later referred to President Obama, saying that “we are on the verge of having an emperor.”

Asked by a young man whether it would be hurting a President Romney not to have Hatch in the Senate, Liljenquist noted that Romney’s endorsement of Hatch came months before Liljenquist was ever in the race and that Romney and Hatch had “been friends for a long time” and that the two “have a deep and abiding relationship.” The questioner then curtly said that Liljenquist didn’t answer his question.

Finally in answer to another question Liljenquist said that he supported repealing the 17th amendment to the Constitution, arguing that the Founding Fathers never would have supported electing U.S. senators by popular vote. Along with that he dinged Hatch once more for not being in touch with the Utah state legislature, saying that that was why the majority of Republicans in Utah’s state congress were supporting Liljenquist.

Liljenquist’s conversation with another supporter discussing bailouts and other issues is available in a video (3:58 minutes) at the end of this article.

Liljenquist’s Chances?

Hatch is still the favorite to win the June 26 primary. At the Republican convention he received 2,243 votes — roughly 57% — against Liljenquist’s 1,108 votes, or about 28%. But since then the primary battle has received the attention of a number of state and national figures, with Liljenquist receiving the endorsements of the majority of his colleagues in the state legislature, along with the endorsements of the Gun Owners of America and popular conservative commentator Michele Malkin. On the other hand Hatch has been endorsed — many of them given, however, before it was clear that he would have a real primary challenger — by popular national figures such as Romney; Mike Crapo, Idaho U.S. Senator; Sam Brownback, Kansas Governor; Sarah Palin, former Alaskan Governor; and Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative talk show host. In a very early poll taken in January 2012, 42% went for Hatch, 23% went for Liljenquist, and 30% said they were undecided.

Liljenquist has held over 200 town-hall meetings since declaring his candidacy in January.

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