Sen. Orrin G. Hatch was named The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Utahn of the Year” on Monday, but the title was not intended as a compliment. The scathing editorial not only called for Hatch to step down — or for voters to oust him in 2018 — but also stated that he had an “utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power.”
Hatch, a Republican, said on Twitter that he was “grateful for this great Christmas honor from the Salt Lake Tribune.”
His reaction led many to think that he had not read past the headline, and inspired ridicule online.
“Picturing Hatch’s reaction when the aforementioned aides finally muster up enough courage to explain to him what is actually in the article,” one tweet said.
A spokesman for Hatch, Matt Whitlock, said the senator’s response had been tongue-in-cheek. He added that The Tribune had urged Hatch, who has served for over 40 years, to retire in the past.
“Everyone celebrates Christmas differently,” Whitlock said in an emailed statement. “We all sincerely hope the members of the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board find joy this holiday season in something beyond baselessly attacking the service and integrity of someone who given 40 years for the people of Utah, and served as one of the most effective lawmakers of all time, just to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for clicks.”
“We’ve never called for him to resign,” George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, said Tuesday. “We have said more than once that he promised in 2012 that he would not run again and should keep that promise.”
The newspaper clearly suspected that the editorial might be misinterpreted, even by Hatch himself. “These things are often misunderstood. So, lest our readers, or the honoree himself, get the wrong impression, let us repeat the idea behind The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utahn of the Year designation,” the piece begins.
The dubious honor is bestowed on the Utahn who, over the past year, “has done the most” — meaning made the most news or had the biggest impact, for good or for ill.
The editorial criticized the “dramatic dismantling” of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, both in Utah, and claimed that the move was essentially a political favor granted by the White House in return for Hatch’s support of President Donald Trump and of the Republican tax plan.
Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, praised Trump at a White House gathering on Wednesday, two days before Trump signed the tax bill into law. “You’re one heck of a leader,” he told Trump.
The editorial suggested that now that the tax bill had passed, Hatch should step down on what he would deem a high note.
“It would be good for Utah if Hatch, having finally caught the Great White Whale of tax reform, were to call it a career,” it said. “If he doesn’t, the voters should end it for him.”