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Rep. Chaffetz considers leaving Congress before the end of his term

SALT LAKE CITY —- The day after making a jaw-dropping announcement that he won't seek re-election, Congressman Jason Chaffetz told FOX 13 he may not even finish his term in office.

“When I contemplate another 200 nights away from home, it is just too much,” Chaffetz told FOX 13 news anchor Bob Evans.

Hours later, Chaffetz released a statement, adding: "My future plans are not yet finalized but I haven't ruled out the possibility of leaving early. In the meantime, I still have a job to do and have no plans to take my foot off the gas."

The announcement led to more speculation and some suspicion about the 3rd District congressman's reasons for leaving. The powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee has repeatedly cited turning 50, growing weary of sleeping on his office cot, and his family being back in Utah.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz speaks to reporters after announcing he will not seek re-election in 2018. (Image by Pete Deluca III, FOX 13 News)

"I'm reluctant to answer on speculation because I believe it's speculation," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters at his monthly news conference on KUED.

The governor said Chaffetz's announcement "caught everyone by surprise."

"I take him at his word that he's tired, that it's time to take a look at his own life and 1,500 days on that cot has taken its toll. I know the travel back and forth can be quite daunting," Gov. Herbert added, thanking Chaffetz for his service.

 

If Chaffetz were to leave early, the governor would call a special election to replace him. It would speed up the horse race that's already begun for potential candidates in Utah's 3rd Congressional District.

The Utah State Legislature did not pass a bill that would have addressed the intricacies of a special election. Gov. Herbert said he would not call a special session to address that.

"I think there's probably a little uncertainty about what the process is, because we've never done it before," the governor said.

He insisted there would be a convention, primary and general election that might have to be sped up a bit.

Governor Gary Herbert at his monthly news conference on April 20, 2017. (Image courtesy KUED)

Morgan Lyon Cotti of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah said Chaffetz is on par with many past members of the state's congressional delegation who have served about 10 years, then retiring because of "burn out."

"No one wants to be a lame duck," she said. "Congressman Chaffetz is a very smart and strategic person. The fact he may have another option and wants to step down is a real possibility."

Cotti said Chaffetz's decision to leave early should not come as a surprise, with a year-and-a-half before the next election.

"We also see people very strategically try to step away to seek election to another office," she said. "Though success with that is not as high as you'd think it would be."

Despite his announcement to not run for anything in 2018, Chaffetz did not close the door on a future political run. He has expressed interest in running for Utah governor in 2020.

That's sparked a lot of intrigue with names thrown out about who replaces him and who he could face if he ran for governor. Questions have also been raised about what Chaffetz would do in the meantime. (He was asked by FOX 13 if he was going to land a gig at FOX News Channel.)

Asked about his own political future on Thursday, Gov. Herbert appeared to back away from earlier statements that he wasn't planning to seek re-election in 2020.