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 TIME on politics TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and TIME

Versatile Hatch: He writes both laws and songs

Jane Norman/Des Moines Register

October 19, 1999
Web posted at: 4:11 p.m. EDT (2011 GMT)

WASHINGTON (Des Moines Register) -- U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch is the epitome of the accomplished Washington politician.

The articulate chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch is a popular guest on the Sunday-morning talk shows, having enjoyed a productive 23-year Senate career.

He's regarded among senators as gracious and helpful, a conservative Republican willing to forge alliances and even friendships with liberals such as Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

The Utah Republican is so polished that Washingtonian magazine recently dubbed him one of the Capitol's best-dressed Republicans, citing his "nice shoes, great shirts and handsome suits."

So why in the world did Hatch take such a seemingly last-minute leap into a race for the Republican presidential nomination dominated by Texas Gov. George W. Bush?

Hatch, 65, concedes that he's hoping Bush will stumble, clearing the way for him as the next choice. But there's far more to it than that, he said.

"If I didn't think I could do a better job than the rest of them put together, I wouldn't be in it," he said. "I have more experience than anybody in the race, including the two Democrats. I have a better record of accomplishment than any of them.

"There's also no question I know more about picking federal judges than all of them put together, and that to me is the No. 1 issue in the presidential election," he said.

Hatch may be best remembered for his role as the leading Republican on the Judiciary Committee in the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thomas was a longtime friend, and Hatch successfully defended him, at one point reading aloud from "The Exorcist" in an attempt to link episodes in the book to charges of sexual harassment made by Anita Hill.

That dour image is not the Hatch many in Washington or Utah know, and they're puzzled why he would undertake an arduous race for president that seems like a lost cause from the outset.

"It's a real mystery to me," said Matthew Burbank, an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah. He said that even if Bush wasn't in the race, Hatch probably wouldn't do much better because his reputation as a deal-maker in the Senate raises suspicions among conservatives.

Money is a problem, too. Hatch reported raising $1.3 million since July, last among the candidates. Bush has raised $56 million so far, including $19 million since July.

Jack Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who's a native of Utah, recently said after an appearance at Utah State University that Hatch has little chance of winning. "I'm sorry to see (Hatch) make a fool of himself," Anderson told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He's a good man."

Hatch was born in Pittsburgh during the Depression. His father, Jesse, was a skilled tradesman. His mother, Helen, was a full-time homemaker, and the family was active in the Mormon church. There were nine children, two of whom died shortly after birth.

Hatch said his financially strapped family lost its home shortly after he was born, so his father borrowed $100, bought an acre of land in the Pennsylvania hills, and built a house with used lumber from a burned building. One side of the family manse consisted of a "Meadow Gold" dairy sign.

"For years, we didn't have indoor facilities," said Hatch. "I never pass a bathroom by."

To earn money as a child, Hatch tended chickens and sold eggs around the neighborhood. When he was 10, tragedy struck with the death of his only brother, Jesse, in World War II.

In 1952, with the help of a scholarship, he went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he met his future wife, Elaine Hansen. Hatch worked as a janitor to pay the bills.

"When Ted Kennedy found that out, he said, "Orrin, you should have stuck with it," Hatch recalled with a chuckle.

After graduation, Orrin and Elaine returned to Pittsburgh, where Hatch's father helped him fix an old chicken coop for the young couple to live in while Hatch attended law school at the University of Pittsburgh. The couple today have six children and 19 grandchildren.

Hatch found a job with a firm in Pittsburgh, then moved to Utah before suddenly entering the race for Senate in 1976 because he thought the other candidates were too moderate. Hatch likes to describe himself as a "gutsy conservative."

Since then, he has accumulated a legislative record he can recite with dizzying speed and detail. Just four years after he was elected, he assumed chairmanship of the Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Hatch quickly demonstrated that although he was conservative, he was willing to work with Democrats. He sided with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, and supported the Americans with Disabilities Act. He worked with Kennedy on expanding health insurance for needy children. In 1997 they tried to raise cigarette taxes to pay for it.

When Republicans regained control of the Senate in 1994, Hatch took over the Judiciary Committee. He said it's difficult to combine that post with a presidential campaign. He was presiding over two conference committees at one point earlier this month.

Between campaigning and his Senate work, Hatch hasn't had a lot of time for a favorite hobby, songwriting.

Hatch has penned the lyrics to hundreds of songs - religious songs, love songs, patriotic themes. Many have made it onto albums by inspirational artists. The rhythm and blues singer Gladys Knight, of Gladys Knight and the Pips, recorded two of Hatch's songs for a new inspirational album.

"I write on planes, or when I have a few moments to think or reflect," he said. "Especially in church I sometimes come up with really good ideas." He also has a novel in the works, and a second book on how to make decisions.

Where Hatch stands on the issues

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch has a long public record on a variety of issues as a senator for more than 20 years. Here's a brief look at where he stands on some of the key issues:

* ABORTION: Hatch supports a constitutional amendment to overturn legalized abortion. He favors banning so-called partial-birth abortions. Hatch, however, would not use abortion as a litmus test for selecting judges, but he recently told the Iowa Right to Life conference: "You are going to like the people I appoint."

* SOCIAL SECURITY: The senator supports the "lock box" concept to prevent Congress from spending the Social Security surplus. He co-sponsored a bill to repeal the 1993 increase in the tax on Social Security benefits. Hatch is considering whether prescription drugs should be covered under Medicare.

* EDUCATION: Hatch helped write a federal program that provides grants for community colleges. He helped pass legislation authorizing grants for programs to keep students from dropping out. The senator supported the Adult Literacy Act, which increased grants for adult education. Hatch supports block grant programs for professional development for teachers.

* ENVIRONMENT: The senator supported money for the Center for Plant Conservation, which works to recover native endangered plants. He co-sponsored a bill to reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which allows for the acquisition or improvement of wetlands.

* AGRICULTURE: Hatch voted for the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996 that moved farm policy toward a more market-oriented approach, and he would not repeal it. Hatch backs the federal ethanol tax credit.

* WORK AND FAMILY: Hatch voted to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that pregnant women were not entitled to company disability benefits. He sponsored a $24 billion program to provide health insurance for children of low-income working parents who don't qualify for Medicaid. The senator backed the Americans with Disabilities Act. He supports defining marriage as a one-man, one-woman relationship.

* SUPREME COURT: The senator championed Justice Clarence Thomas during his nomination hearings in 1991. He also supported the appointment of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Hatch has made appointments to the Supreme Court one of the main issues of his campaign, saying that the next president will appoint at least three new members. He wants nominees to demonstrate "proper judicial restraint."

* DEFENSE: Hatch says he wants a "strong national defense second to none." He backed legislation to increase pay raises to men and women in uniform. The senator supported raising defense spending by $12 billion over President Clinton's request.

Orrin Hatch

* AGE: 65

* PARTY: Republican

* RESIDENCE: Born in Pittsburgh, now lives in Salt Lake City

* EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, Brigham Young University, 1959; law degree, University of Pittsburgh, 1962

* CAREER: Lawyer in Pennsylvania, then Utah, until his election to U.S. Senate in 1976.

* RELIGION: Mormon

* FAMILY: Wife, Elaine; six children


This article provided by Des Moines


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