News & Politics

Utah Congressman Who Enjoys Meddling With DC to Go Home in 2018

Goodbye, Jason Chaffetz.

Photograph by Flickr user Michael Jolley.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, will not run for re-election in 2018. Chaffetz’s retirement from Congress was reported first by BuzzFeed News and confirmed in a Facebook message from the five-term member.

“After long consultation with my family and prayerful consideration, I have decided I will not be a candidate for any office in 2018,” writes Chaffetz, who was first elected in 2008.

Chaffetz represented Utah’s third district, which includes much of the southern and eastern portions of the state and is considered a safe Republican seat. But since taking over the Oversight Committee in 2015 he has become better known, at least locally, for using that panel’s power to impede actions taken by the District’s leaders. He threatened Mayor Muriel Bowser with arrest if she attempted to enact the marijuana-legalization referendum that city residents approved overwhelmingly in 2014. Chaffetz never got the mayor thrown behind bars, but his interference was enough to get the DC government from carrying out a form of cannabis legalization that still prohibits the kind of retail market seen in states like Colorado and Washington.

And while Chaffetz spent much of 2016 salivating over the prospect of fisking a Hillary Clinton presidency, he’s been fairly sheepish when it comes to investigating Donald Trump. In January, he hauled Walter Shaub, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, into a closed-door meeting after Shaub criticized Trump’s plan to turn over day-to-day control of his corporation to his sons. Last month, Chaffetz shrugged off the possibility that Trump might use the presidency to enrich his family’s businesses.

Chaffetz has, however, kept up the heat on DC. He again accused Bowser of violating federal law when the mayor said the city would be creating a legal-defense fund to aid District residents who might be affected by the White House’s anti-immigration orders, and vowed he would stop the enactment of a city bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide. His efforts seemed to be in vain; the euthanasia legislation went into effect in February after Congress failed to block it.

Chaffetz’s meddling, while mostly ineffective, was enough to earn him the derision of city residents, some of whom started raising money for potential challengers in future House races. In March, a Utah expat and others formed Americans for Self-Rule, a political action committee that would’ve supported a primary- or general-election challenger to Chaffetz. The group held its first official event on Tuesday, featuring golf balls imprinted with Chaffetz’s face.

Chaffetz also inspired multiple artists to design stickers left in public places around the city. One design reads “Chaffetz is a Bully,” while another shows the congressman’s face accompanied by an even pithier caption.

Although Washington will soon be done with Chaffetz, he’s not looking to fade entirely. While he’s sitting out next year’s elections, he told the Washington Post in February that he was “leaning toward” running for governor of Utah in 2020. But even if Chaffetz’s exit from Congress was a long-planned step in his political ambitions, his DC haters are still claiming credit.

“Looks like our launch party was just too much for him!” Americans for Self-Rule wrote on its Facebook page. “On to the next Congressional tyrant!”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.