Speeches

It is with mixed emotions that I rise today to honor my friend and senior Senator, the gentleman from Utah, Orrin Hatch.

This year marks the end of an astounding 42-year tenure serving the people of Utah in the Senate. In that time, Senator Hatch has made an indelible mark on our state and our nation.

People who follow Washington politics closely know what he has meant to this institution, his party, and the republic. But for those of us from Utah, Orrin Hatch is more than a name in the newspaper. He is the towering political figure not only of his generation, but also of the generations that have come along in his wake.

Many Utahns can’t even remember a time before Orrin Hatch was serving, leading, and speaking for us in Washington. One of the great privileges of my young life was the opportunity to serve as his page when I was a teenager.

He was, then as now, one of the leaders of the Senate. Not only a political role model, but a role model, period: outspoken but always thoughtful; honest, but always gentle; tough when he had to be, and kind even when he didn’t have to be.

One of my fondest memories of Senator Hatch was a few years after I had been his page, when I was 17 or 18 years old. I was at the General Conference, sitting a row behind the Hatches, when the Senator had to get up and catch a plane to go back to Washington.

When he turned around and saw me there, he stopped – recognizing me. He took the cufflinks off his shirt – they had the seal of the Senate on them – and handed them to me as a gift. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world, like a rock star had just handed me his guitar.

But of course, the career of Orrin Hatch stretches back much further than that.

In 1976, the political landscape of the United States was very different than it is today.

We were plagued by double-digit inflation, high interest rates, growing unemployment, and a diminishing military. America was still reeling from the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

At the same time, Congress was rapidly expanding the federal budget with no regard for the future debt it was racking up. Washington was governed by the belief that government was the answer to every problem, and that ordinary Americans could not be trusted to make decisions by themselves.

It was in this environment that Orrin Hatch – without any political experience or, according to experts, much chance of success – stepped up.

As he wrote in one of his memoirs:

“I could not escape the powerful and persistent belief that my state and country were in serious trouble, headed down a dangerous and destructive path, and that if given a chance, I could make a difference. I felt it was my duty, my responsibility, to run and at least give voice to my concerns and my ideas for remedying what was wrong. It was my obligation to give the voters another choice.”

So Orrin – the son of a tradesman, who grew up during the Great Depression in a ramshackle house built from recycled lumber – did just that.

He defied the pundits and took the plunge. From that first campaign, Orrin understood that Utahns wanted the country to go in a different direction, and he was ready to offer his service.

Against all odds, and with a lot of hard work from him and his family, Hatch beat the incumbent Democrat by a solid margin.

Thus began his long career in the Senate, and his many years of striving to serve the interests of Utah and the nation.

For four decades, Orrin has not only been engaging in the great debates of his time, but leading them.

As I see it, the thread that runs through Senator Hatch’s politics is trust: his trust in the American people, in the Constitution, and in the institution of the Senate.

That trust – of consumers, producers, workers, and families – is why he’s such an advocate for the free enterprise economy.

It’s why he has sponsored a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution seventeen times – and whence came his nickname “Mr. Balanced Budget” from Ronald Reagan himself.

In shepherding the historic tax reform law we passed last year, Senator Hatch adopted an inclusive, open-minded approach that succeeded specifically because he trusted his colleagues.

His work in the 1980s, helping to create the modern generic drug industry, was based on the same principle – trusting the American people to make good decisions for themselves and their health care.

We all know the honors and accolades. President Pro Temp. Presidential Medal of Freedom. But Orrin would be the first to tell you, the real legislative legacy he leaves behind is the work of a Senator who has sponsored more bills that have become law than any other legislator alive today.

Look at the stamp he leaves on the Judiciary Committee.

Not just landmark legislation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which guarantees robust protections for all Americans to live, work, and worship according to their beliefs.

Senator Hatch has been personally involved in the selection and confirmation of federal judges in Utah and across the country, and every current member of the Supreme Court – a legacy that will outlast his time in the Senate still by many decades.

And yet, despite all the history Orrin has made in Washington, his story is even more impressive.

He has been a loving and devoted husband to his wife Elaine for 61 years. Together, they have six children, 23 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. They are his proudest achievements, and he credits their love as the key to his success.

Despite decades at the pinnacle of American government, Orrin believes the most important years of his life were the two he spent serving as a missionary in the Great Lakes Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As Senator Hatch mentioned in recent remarks, an article of our faith is “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” And this is indeed how he has lived his life, and the way in which he has faithfully served God, his family, his country, and his state.

Utah – and the United States as a whole – are better off for his service since he decided to run for the Senate all those years ago. I am grateful for all the time that he has dedicated to Utah, and for the personal encouragement that he has given to me.

And from the time that I was his page, to the past years that I have been his colleague in the Senate, it has been an honor to serve with him.

I yield the floor.