WASHINGTON (ABC4 News) – One of the most storied political careers in the state of Utah is coming to an end.
Senator Orrin Hatch is stepping aside after serving more than four decades in the U.S. Senate.
ABC4 News chief political correspondent Glen Mills recently traveled to Washington D.C. to get an up close and personal look at his final days in office.
Whether you voted for him over the decades or not, there is no denying he rose to new heights for a politician from Utah.
And, along the way, he played a key role in elevating our state’s profile on the national stage.
It all started back in 1976. That’s when Hatch, a successful litigation attorney at the time, made his first run for the Senate and defeated a three-term incumbent.
“I never thought I’d be here 42 years, the longest tenure of any Republican senator in history,” said Hatch, (R) Utah.
Utah voters sent the senator back to Washington for six more terms.
He says walking the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill for all those years has been the honor of a lifetime.
“Utah has been so good to me. All I can say is that I’m just so proud to represent Utah and my constituents, they are good people.”
During his decades of service, the senator has passed close to 800 bills, some of which are widely considered landmark legislation.
Part of that success comes from his ability to cross party lines and form friendships on the other side of the aisle.
“I have agreed with him on many of his proposals while he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I think he has left a legacy,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D) Connecticut.
Blumenthal says that legacy includes a cordial side in what can be a contentious environment.
“We’ve had our share of disagreements. He’s always been courteous, and attentive and we’ve agreed to disagree,” he said.
One of Hatch’s most notable Democratic allies is the late, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
The two teamed up on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, currently providing coverage to more than 9 million children across the country.
Hatch’s top achievements also include the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Hatch-Waxman Act, establishing government regulations for generic drugs and providing a path for them to get to the market easier and the Music Modernization Act.
“It would be hard to look at his career and say I didn’t like anything that he did. There are things that he has sponsored, in terms of legislation, that people across the country have benefited from,” said Hinckley Institute of Politics director Jason Perry.
He says Senator Hatch has also ascended to powerful positions never held by a member of Utah’s Congressional Delegation.
“I would summarize Orrin Hatch’s career as one of being very influential, in fact, maybe being the most significant and powerful player we have had in the state of Utah in all of Congress.”
Hatch has chaired the powerful Finance and Judiciary Committees and is finishing his career as president pro tempore of the Senate, putting him third in line to the presidency.
“We’ve brought Utah out of the wilderness in a lot of ways, in the sense of having it be nationally recognized in so many ways now,” Hatch said.
The senator says he always tries to bring a piece of Utah to everything he works on.
That includes an evolution over the years to the way he views issues like medical marijuana and LGBTQ rights.
“I don’t think people choose to be gay, I think they are born that way and if they don’t choose to be gay, then how do you blame them for it?”
Now, as the door closes 42 years later, this is how he hopes to be remembered.
“That he was totally honest, he was a tough guy, he was a smart guy, he did what was right, he represented his state well and he lived his personal religion. Those are the type of things I think I’d like to have people say in retrospect.”