AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In 1976, a young Senate candidate from Utah ran with this slogan - what do you call a senator who served in office for 18 years? You call him home. That candidate won. His name was Orrin Hatch, and more than 40 years later, he still holds that Senate seat. He is the longest-serving Republican senator in history, and he's just announced he plans to retire when his seventh term ends a year from now.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Over the holidays, Orrin Hatch's hometown paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, said in an editorial that Hatch should leave the Senate. It cited a, quote, "utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power" - strong words there. George Pyle is The Tribune's editorial page editor, and he joins us now. Mr. Pyle, thanks for being with us this morning.
GEORGE PYLE: Good morning.
MARTIN: Why did you and your paper call for Hatch to step away?
PYLE: Well, mainly that we thought he had promised that he would six years ago when he ran the last time. He was making it pretty clear that that would be his last term. And he basically froze a generation of Utah politicians who might have been ready to take over for him. It's very difficult to raise money or set up an organization if you think that you're - that's going to be blocked by a long-term incumbent like that. So when he started making noises in the last year or so about how he might seek yet another term that would be his eighth, we thought he was way out of line and we called him on it.
And we were also upset about the fact that some of the things he promised to do the last time, such as settle the immigration issues, particularly the DREAMers, the people who have been brought here as children, and some other things that he said he would take care of in renewing his children's health initiative, which was his and Ted Kennedy's creation. He wasn't able to accomplish either of those things in the past six years, and there didn't look like a great deal of opportunity to think that if he got an eighth term that he would be able to do it then.
MARTIN: But it's up to the voters - right? - and the voters kept picking him.
PYLE: Well, they kept picking him, but there were polls recently that said that maybe 70, 75 percent of Utahans didn't want him to run again, hoped that he would retire. Nobody wanted him to resign, to get out early, but to finish up this term and keep the promise that it would be his last.
MARTIN: How - so now he's going to step down. How will he be remembered? I mean, what is his political legacy in Utah?
PYLE: Well, the most obvious thing is just the length of it. The accomplishments are kind of hard to list, especially if the CHIP program doesn't come back. That was something that he was very much behind. I think what a lot of people will remember are the days when he was a leader in bipartisanship, when he would reach across the aisle and make deals with his friend Senator Kennedy and others. And in the last year or so, he seems to have picked up the idea that bipartisanship is something that people don't do anymore, that everybody needs to be hyperpartisan and tribal and do nothing but stick up for your own side.
MARTIN: So now Orrin Hatch is clearing the way. Many people would suggest for Mitt Romney to launch a run for that Senate seat. He's a favored son there, even though Massachusetts has been his primary residence for a long time. Would Romney be a shoo-in for this seat?
PYLE: Just about. I mean, he's very well thought of here. I mean, the Mormon legacy is part of it. More directly, he's created - the 2002 Winter Olympics, which had been mired under a great deal of scandal before he came in. We don't know for sure that he's going to run, but the symptoms point in that way.
MARTIN: George Pyle - he is the editor of The Salt Lake Tribune editorial page. Thanks so much for your time this morning.
PYLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.