Jason Chaffetz

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Last year, Washington City Paper‘s Aaron Wiener wrote a cover story on Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, arguing that Issa had become the District’s unexpected best friend in Congress. Issa is the outgoing chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which includes the District in its purview. And while at the helm of the committee, he surprised D.C. officials by pushing for greater autonomy for the city.

But the District may not get as lucky with Issa’s successor. Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah was named the chair of the oversight committee Tuesday. He currently chairs the oversight and government reform’s national security subcommittee.

Chaffetz has opposed efforts in Congress in the past to give D.C. additional autonomy. In 2010, when Republicans took control of the House, Chaffetz was in line to take over the subcommittee that oversees D.C., but instead opted for one that oversees the Department of Homeland Security. Before he made that decision, though, Dave Weigel profiled Chaffetz for City Paper, and the contrast between Chaffetz and Issa when it comes to D.C. affairs was pretty stark.

Weigel wrote in 2010:

In just under two years here, Chaffetz has opposed Norton’s bill to give D.C. a congressional vote, opposed her bill to give D.C. more autonomy, and filed a bill to force a gay marriage referendum on D.C. And in a Republican House, Chaffetz would have reinforcements, ideological allies who wave the U.S. Constitution like members of the Red Guard used to wave quotations from Chairman Mao.

According to Chaffetz, poking around in the District’s local affairs and keeping D.C. from getting a meaningful vote in Congress is precisely what he was sent to Washington to do. He defeated an incumbent in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District’s Republican primary in 2008 by running to his right on immigration as well as on the more amorphous issue of faithfulness to the Constitution—a platform that, for Chaffetz, included opposing a vote for D.C.

“When I got here,” says Chaffetz, speaking in a separate interview, “I introduced myself to Congresswoman Norton. I told her where was I on this issue. And that’s the last time we talked about an issue. We haven’t worked on any issue together.”

Chaffetz went as far as to tell Weigel that he thinks the District should be retroceded back into a state.

“It’s our nation’s capital and the Constitution deals with it in a unique way,” Chaffetz says. “Washington, D.C., is not a state. My proposal is stronger than Eleanor Holmes Norton’s proposal, because I’d like to see it retroceded back into a state.”

Chaffetz says District residents would be happy if their neighborhoods became part of Maryland while the government buildings around the Mall remained a federal zone. “Not only could they have two senators,” Chaffetz says, “but they could have a voting member and a state legislature. I think anything short of full representation won’t be appealing long term. I’m also a realist. Unless the people of D.C. are supportive of it, unless there’s real bipartisan support, it’s not going to pass.”

The soon-to-be-fourth-term Congressman tweeted Tuesday that he was “humbled” by the appointment.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton‘s office has not yet responded to a request for a comment on Chaffetz’s appointment. I’ll update this when she does, but she’s likely not very happy about it.

Update, Nov. 19, 3:08 p.m.: Norton seems to be handling Chaffetz’ appointment pretty well and issued this diplomatic statement in response:

I congratulate Rep. Chaffetz on his new chairmanship, and I look forward to meeting with him and introducing him to the mayor-elect of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser.  The new chairman has already visited the ranking member’s district, and considering the committee’s jurisdiction over D.C. matters, I will shortly invite him to visit the District, which is even closer.  The committee’s major concerns have always been national issues, but some D.C. matters that require committee consideration arise every year.  Since I have been in Congress, the chairmen of this committee have adopted a tradition of respecting D.C.’s right to self-government, consistent with their own support of federalism and local control.  I have every reason to believe and hope that tradition will continue under Chairman-elect Chaffetz.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery