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Saturday, August 29, 2009
I Think I Found a Great Candidate

For a House or Senate seat, I mean. Will he run? For what office? Where do I sign up to help the campaign?

Instead of blogging last evening, I accompanied MFCC to the Alpine City Hall, thinking we might be in for a reasonably interesting evening of talk about national politics and the United States Constitution. We got that. But what I saw was a great deal more.

First, I should note that this was not the sort of town hall meeting you've been seeing on television, the sort that has inspired my Congressman, Jim Matheson, not to hold any real town hall meetings at all this month. Yes, it was standing room only, and yes, there were opinionated, well-informed people there. But it was quite orderly, and there wasn't a lot of talk directly about health care.

The speaker was Michael S. Lee, a former clerk to US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, former general counsel to Governor Huntsman, and a son of former BYU President and US Solicitor General Rex Lee. Here's a more complete resume, from a press release announcing his appointment to a corporate board earlier this year:

Mike Lee . . . focuses primarily on appellate litigation, and has represented a wide variety of corporate, non-profit, and governmental clients in cases pending before various appellate courts throughout the country, including the US Supreme Court. As a complement to his appellate litigation practice, Mr. Lee has developed a unique type of government-relations practice -- one that draws upon his expertise in constitutional law and statutory construction, and is devoted to helping businesses formulate comprehensive legal and political strategies to hasten the resolution of regulatory and litigation-related threats to their success.

Following law school, Mr. Lee served as a clerk to Judge Dee V. Benson, of the US District Court for the District of Utah (1997-1998), and then to Judge Samuel A. Alito, then of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (1998-1999). After spending several years in private practice, Mr. Lee became an Assistant US Attorney in Salt Lake City, where he argued a total of eighteen cases before the Tenth Circuit, and prepared briefs in scores of others. Mr. Lee was named as General Counsel to Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman in January 2005. As General Counsel, Mr. Lee's duties included everything from interviewing judicial nominees to overseeing the State's litigation and lobbying efforts in matters deemed important to the Governor's policy objectives. He left the Governor's Office in July 2006 to begin a US Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Alito. He joined Howrey [a DC-based law firm] in September 2007.

I'll tell you why I'm belaboring his resume in a minute.

A Few Notes on the Presentation

Lee began by observing that political power cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred among persons and institutions. If one person's or institution's power has increased, someone's power somewhere has decreased. Therefore, anytime the federal government exercises power, it does so at the expense of the states or local governments, or the people.

He explained the history of the "commerce clause" in Article I of the Constitution, which empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce. As serious students of the Constitution know, interstate tariffs were a major problem under the Articles of Confederation, the United States' first governing document. So the Constitution empowers Congress, not the states, to regulate interstate commerce, for the purpose of preventing them from misbehaving as the were.

Beginning (not coincidentally) in the 1930s, the US Supreme Court began to allow the federal government greatly to expand its power by construing the commerce clause very broadly, to the point, almost, that anything related to anything related to anything that might have anything to do with interstate commerce is subject to federal regulation. Lee didn't talk much about the 14th Amendment's similar use in recent decades, based partly counterintuitive notion of "substantive due process," but at present I think we can say, once again, that we live in a time when the most prominent abuses relate to the commerce clause.

Lee had a nice quotation from New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt about the dangers of "soft tyranny" -- the sort Roosevelt himself practiced later, as President Roosevelt. If any of my readers can trace that to a source, I'd be grateful. I haven't found it yet.

He took numerous questions and comments, in some cases graciously explaining his disagreements with someone in the audience.

He wasn't just there to explain the problems, he said, but to encourage us to get busy solving them, essentially -- and this is my summary -- by exerting every possible honorable influence on our representatives at every opportunity. For example, Lee urged us to know what powers the Constitution grants to Congress, and then never to let a chance pass us by to ask our representatives and senators which of the enumerated powers in Article I grants Congress the authority to do . . . whatever the latest bill is trying to do. The hope is that, if we keep asking, maybe they'll start thinking about it.

He advocates a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget and to limit the federal government's revenue to a certain, tolerably low percentage of gross domestic product. (Or was it gross national product? I don't recall, and the two are somewhat different.) Obviously, he would make a temporary exception for times of war.

He also advocates a constitutional amendment to set term limits at six House terms and two Senate terms. Such limitations might be unnecessary, in theory, if the size of the federal government were much reduced and if a sufficiently educated populace were politically active. The idealist in me is not fond of term limits, but I'll concede that, since neither of these situations is the case, term limits might be a prudent measure to move us in that direction.

There were a few right-wing zealots in the audience, like the fellow who thinks it's very important that we go back to the gold standard. And there were a few folks who seemed to want to let their passions get ahead of their wisdom, like the guy who said he regretted being polite to Senator Hatch recently at a wedding, instead of getting in his face and demanding answers to questions. But the speaker fit in neither of these groups. I disagreed with a point or two, and I think he got a bit carried away once or twice, and I haven't done justice to his presentation here, but . . . His history, his constitutional law, and his analysis of what is happening in Washington and why were, as far as I can tell, spot on. And I haven't heard a more sensible prescription for the remedy: educate ourselves and our friends, families, and neighbors, and start being represented (also my phrase) in Washington.

What I Saw

I was at the meeting because Representative John Dougall, my state representative, invited me (among many, many others), and because I consider the promised subject matter to be interesting and important. Mr. Lee did not say precisely why he was there, besides simply having something to say, but it seemed obvious to me: he's preparing to run for office.

On reflection, I find myself delighted at the prospect.

For years I have been moaning about the Utah Republican Party's perennial inability to produce a solid new candidate who can be a competent and effective challenger for my own Congressman Jim Matheson. I'm looking for someone who fits all these adjectives: intelligent, experienced, erudite, articulate, personable, and conservative; we seem to be lucky to get just two or three of these things in the same Republican candidate lately. We haven't had an excellent campaigner, either; perhaps the Jason Chaffetz model would be useful in that respect.

Some of you want to say, at this point, "Yes, exactly! We need someone just like Congressman Chaffetz!" But this is exactly my point: we need a conservative who is not like Congressman Chaffetz. I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise, but so far my read on Congressman Chaffetz is that he is genuinely conservative and knows how to conduct an exemplary grass-roots campaign, but is, politically, a shallow cheerleader who knows just the right buttons to push. Sure, he's a rock star in Utah County, but he's a bantamweight in Washington, where we need savvy heavyweights.

Intelligent. Experienced. Erudite. Articulate. Personable. Conservative. Two hours may be too little basis for judgment, even if it's more concentrated attention than most voters give to a congressional candidate before they vote. In any case, based on my two hours last night, Mike Lee is six for six. (His overall campaign savvy is still an open question.) He is in a different league altogether from Congressman Chaffetz in the 3rd District or any Republican who has run against Jim Matheson in the 2nd District in the last four elections. Lee can be a political force.

That said, I don't know which office Lee has in mind. He took aim at a couple of Republican senators last night, so maybe he is contemplating a primary fight with one of them. But I hope he's running for the House next year. Then he can run for the Senate seat of his choice later, if that's what he wants, and quite possible do it as a quasi-incumbent.

Maybe It's Just Me

Am I the only one who sees Utah politics this way?

Sometimes I wonder. I saw on Facebook today some discussion among people who were at last night's meeting, who hope Lee will run for office. One of them said Lee should run for the Senate, or for high state office (governor or attorney general), because "we already have Casey Anderson" to run against Matheson in the Utah's 2nd District. So I dutifully went to Casey Anderson's Web site and spent some time there, trying (as the conservative I am) to see a reason to vote for him.

Maybe time will erase my first impression, but for now it's this: I'm sure Anderson is a nice guy who loves his country. He seems to be of at least average intelligence, and he apparently owns a video camera. His ideas are more good than bad, I guess, even if he's sloppy about details, makes up numbers, and is a little kooky on some points. He even has a presence at Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. But Anderson's views and his articulation of them have "Matheson landslide in 2010" written all over them.

If we take our national politics seriously, we cannot afford to put up another also-ran every two years and keep getting shellacked. Nor can we afford to put up our own shallow, charismatic button-pusher against an incumbent, effective, reasonably charismatic politician of Jim Matheson's caliber. We need someone very much like Mike Lee to study the Chaffetz ground game and learn whatever useful lessons it offers, then suit up and run long and hard for Congress on his own merits and experience.

We should also ask him if he has any conservative friends of similar caliber in Utah, or for that matter anywhere else.

Rob Anderson comments (9/9/09):

Only in America can a responsible citizen rise up above the population and challenge the leadership in such a way. It takes dedication, perserverance, pride, a long-term commitment, an abundance of energy, a desire to lead, ethics and moral standards above reproach, passion, etc. etc. etc.

What you seem to ignore? Candidate Anderson has all of the above and more! He has begun his efforts on his own with no financial backing. Creating interest among many voters through sheer effort with goals and objectives to challenge Matheson and win!

Search for a candidate that is guaranteed to win. However, in the meantime I suggest you meet Candidate Anderson and find the qualities I have noted above, or you can continue to criticize and demean someone who truly cares! After all Barack Obama wasn't created in a day!

David Rodeback comments (9/9/09):

Thanks for reading. Thanks doubly for commenting.

I seek no guaranteed outcomes, just a fighting chance; no superheroes, just a solid conservative candidacy -- with the "solid" being as critical to the candidacy as the "conservative," and there's the rub.

Forgive me, but your panegyric leaves me with a song from Camelot in my head -- "C'est moi," if you must know. And I think I'd like to watch As Good as It Gets again sometime. Jack Nicholson's Melvin Udall and others have many excellent lines, including this one:

"I'd be the luckiest man alive if that did it for me."

Sorry. This just doesn't.

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