Could a former Democrat be the next Republican speaker of the House?
Stranger things have happened.
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz burst into the establishment political consciousness after he ran to the right of and defeated longtime Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon in 2008.
Recently, his grilling of Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards as the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform gained national attention and raised the ire of some conservatives.
He also found himself in the crosshairs of the Secret Service after his investigation of its frat-tastic and potentially dangerous behavior spurred internal and external reviews of the president’s private detail.
His candidacy to replace John Boehner is a bit of a surprise, so here are a few things you might not know about the newest anti-establishment candidate running for speaker:
1. He was Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis’s Utah co-chairman in the 1980s.
Yep, you read that right.
More than 20 years ago, Chaffetz was a co-chairman of the Utah branch of the 1988 nominee’s campaign, in part because Dukakis is his half-brother’s stepfather.
Chaffetz’s father, John, was married to Kitty—who would later become Kitty Dukakis—before Jason Chaffetz was born.
In an interview for Roll Call (with yours truly), Chaffetz joked about his family affiliation.
“I wish I had a flip chart,” he said.
2. He converted to Mormonism—and the GOP—in college.
Chaffetz was raised Jewish but converted to Mormonism while attending Brigham Young University (where he was also the kicker for the football team).
It was at Brigham Young that he also had another life-changing conversion. After meeting President Reagan, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, Chaffetz became a Republican.
“I owe so much to this community. I came here with nothing,” he said at the 2008 Utah Republican Party Convention, according to the Tribune. “I’m a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; I’m a convert to the Republican Party.”
3. He won his seat in a huge upset.
Chaffetz, who cut his teeth in politics as campaign manager for Jon Huntsman’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign, challenged six-term incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon in 2008.
Despite being outspent, Chaffetz defeated Cannon in Utah’s Republican caucus 59 to 41 percent.
4. He applied to be in the Secret Service…and was denied.
As our own Tim Mak reported earlier this year, Chaffetz applied to be in the Secret Service in the early 2000s and was rejected.
“It was because I was too old,” the Utah Republican, who was 36 at the time of his application, told The Daily Beast. “I’m not sure [of the reason]…that’s more than a decade ago.”
Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, launched an investigation into the Secret Service last year after a series of sex scandals and security lapses raised questions about just how safe the president really is.
Late last month, the Secret Service came under fire again, this time for leaking private information about Chaffetz in an effort to discredit him and, presumably, to derail his probe.
“It’s a little bit scary. The Secret Service diving into my background as a sitting member of Congress?” said Chaffetz, said on CNN last week. “It’s not about me, but it is about: What are they doing over there? These people are trusted with guns by the president, for goodness's sake."
5. He lives in his office—did he mention he lives in his office?
After defeating Cannon, Chaffetz quickly became one of the higher profile freshman members—in part because he, along with Colorado Democrat Jared Polis, documented his freshman year of Congress in a video diary for CNN.
One of the things he was most vocal about at the time was the fact that he slept on a cot in his office.
As of December 2014, he was still sleeping on a cot—although the office has gotten bigger and better. We’ll update as soon as we know if he plans on using the speaker’s office suite as a crash pad if he makes the cut.