Utahns are not people of moderation. Instead of having two kids, we have five or six. Instead of having two or three drinks a week, we prefer a lifetime of abstinence. Instead of buying a flashlight, we prefer to store a month’s worth of food in case of emergency.
Our politics run a similar course—we are an immoderately red state. Republicans have won every Senate election since 1970. More than 77 percent of us voted for Republican Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. in 2008. We have voted for the Republican candidate in the last 10 presidential elections, and we hold the dubious honor of being the only state to give more votes to Ross Perot than to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election.
But as of late, Utah is at the vanguard of moderate Republicanism. Senator Bob Bennett, a consistent recipient of high ratings from conservative groups such as the American Conservative Union and the Christian Coalition, recently teamed up with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden to write the “Healthy Americans Act.” The compromise bill called for universal health coverage administered through private and public insurance institutions, and it mandated that employers increase salaries to offset the new taxes employees would pay for coverage. In fact, the bill had so many Democratic measures in it, that the right-wing Club For Growth attacked Bennett for his sponsorship.
Senator Hatch has put a similar leftward-spin on some of his recent activities. Just last June, Hatch reached out to the Liberal Lion himself, Senator Ted Kennedy, to expand and enlarge SCHIP, the federal program for uninsured children. Hatch also continues to champion stem-cell research, a subject on which he finds more common ground with Democrats than with his fellow Republicans.
Last, but certainly not least important, in this move toward moderation, is former Governor – now Ambassador – Huntsman. Huntsman has always focused more on economic liberties and business development than he has divisive social issues, but his decision to support civil unions and to relax Utah’s liquor laws, put him squarely in the moderate Republican camp. Had Huntsman not moved to China, centrist voters would still be listing him as a top pick for the 2012 presidential elections.
These three statesmen — Huntsman especially — are now hallmarks of moderate Western Republicanism. Best embodied by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and, slightly less so, John McCain, Western Republicanism is distinguished from its Southern counterpart by its ideology of strict limited government and its willingness to compromise. Western Republicans appreciate that Democrats are usually working toward the shared goal of national prosperity, and as such, they are more apt to reforming and moderating Democratic positions than they are to shouting “you lie” and calling it a day. Not only does this give Western Republicans real power in influencing the current majority’s policies, it also earns them credibility with the American public. A “no” vote to a Democratichealthcare measure is much more telling if it comes from a lawmaker willing to compromise than it is from a lawmaker who votes against anything that has a Democratic sponsor.