Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz unexpectedly announced Wednesday that he would not run for re-election in 2018 or any other office. The chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, Chaffetz also ran for Speaker of the House in 2015 after Rep. John Boehner stepped down.
Anticipating people’s surprise, Chaffetz said in a Facebook post that “for those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives” and that his decision was the result of “long consultation with my family and prayerful consideration.”
But Chaffetz was also facing a tougher-than-usual re-election battle with a potential primary challenge from the Republican mayor of Provo, John Curtis. The crowdfunding site Crowdpac has already raised over $11,000 in pledges if Curtis agreed to challenge the congressman.
“He’s been toying with this idea after residents have come to him ask him to run and I would be lying to you if I told you he wasn’t looking at it,” said Corey Norman, a spokesman for the mayor. “Things certainly just got more real.”
President Trump has never been especially popular in Utah, a majority Mormon state, and Chaffetz’s support of the president had earned him heaps of scorn at town halls.
His likely Democratic challenger next fall is political newcomer and family physician Dr. Kathryn Allen, who had an uphill battle in the red district. She has already raised over $560,000 for her campaign, an almost unprecedented sum for a non-incumbent congressional campaign 18 months away from Election Day. Chaffetz had only $403,000 in his account through the end of March.
Chaffetz left open the possibility that he would run for office again, potentially in the 2020 governor’s race. He previously served as chief of staff to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Democrats in Congress have been especially critical of Chaffetz for not vigilantly investigating President Trump and the billionaire’s potential conflicts of interest. They argued that he was shielding a president of his own party after relentlessly investigating Democrat Hillary Clinton last fall for her email scandal. Before the election, Chaffetz and other Republicans on the committee were quietly preparing to investigate Clinton’s emails for potentially years but have since let the investigation go by the wayside.