Make Your Own Luck
John Chaffetz, at 75, echoes his son’s laid-back nature in his speech. He warns an interview may have to be cut short since his son will be doing a Fox News spot shortly—he never fails to tune in, even with the volume of Jason’s TV appearances.
When asked about his absence when Jason was growing up, John says simply, “I was on the plane a lot,” but when asked if his traveling affected his family life, he admits he’s never considered it nor even been asked about it.
“I knew what I had to do, and there’s no way to dilute that,” John says. “There is no Plan B.” John believes in following a life based on applying oneself full-bore to all manner of tasks. John himself has been a sportscaster, car salesman and hotel manager, and now spends his time writing true-crime novels after having served as a juror on a well-publicized rape case. He now does speaking engagements about the dire need for police departments to test rape kits and log the information instead of leaving the samples on police evidence-room shelves.
John does not deny running a tight ship when he raised Jason and his younger brother, Alex. He does recall a few times when the family was living in Scottsdale, Ariz., that he punished the boys by turning the air conditioning off at night. “I wanted them to know that not everybody lived like we did,” John says
Jason recalls a typical household routine that included chores, a required hour a day of reading, curfews and his dad wiggling his toes to wake him up for school.
But if John was stern with his sons, he says he was not controlling. “I never said, ‘I hope you do this or do that,’ ” John says. “I just wanted them to be healthy and successful in whatever they chose to do.”
He simply impressed upon them one core belief: “Hard work makes good luck.”
In Jason’s high school years, his parents divorced. His school months were spent in Winterpark, Colo., with his father and summers in Arizona with his mother. As a junior in high school, Jason had a crystallizing “raise-your-hand” moment when the high-school football coach encouraged members of the soccer team to try out for placekicker. Jason was the only one who tried out, and he got picked.
“I remember telling Jason, ‘You don’t know the difference between a football and a banana,’” John says. But sensing Jason’s eagerness, they began to learn. John managed to stumble upon Fred Steinfort, a record-holding placekicker for Boston College and former kicker for the Oakland Raiders, among other NFL teams, and recruited him to train Jason.
Soon, Jason’s regimen was five hours of training, seven days a week, for months. Sit-ups, 20-yard sprints, hours of stretching and lots and lots of kicks.
“I can’t even touch my toes these days, but I used to put my heel on the wall above my head and almost do the splits against the wall,” Chaffetz says. “I turned my skinny Ralph Macchio body into one with a pretty good kicking leg.”
John says Jason kicked the football thousands of times before they submitted a video of the kick to various colleges around the country and BYU recruited Jason. “Jason’s last high school game, 74 people saw it,” John says. “And his next game, 65,000 people were on hand for worldwide satellite coverage, and it didn’t faze him a bit.”
The reception area of Chaffetz’s office bustles. A Sandy woman calls to complain about the military helicopters that buzz over her yard and blast radio waves that she can feel resonate in her jaw. Dropping by to distribute literature are various citizen lobbyists, including one well-dressed man representing the American Civil Liberties Union. He says he’s urging members of Congress to support an amendment to the defense budget offered by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, to curtail expanding the president’s wartime authority.
What the young ACLU pamphleteer probably could not have guessed is that Chaffetz was well aware of Amash’s amendment. In fact, in keeping with Chaffetz’s style of holding to principle over politics like other tea-party leaders, not only did Chaffetz support Amash’s amendment, but he would later vote against the defense budget’s passage because the amendment was voted down.
Chaffetz himself would go on to propose a bipartisan amendment that week, one calling for major troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving only contingent forces to respond to surgical, counter-terror ops. Given the recent demise of Osama bin Laden, the idea of assigning special ops over prolonged troop occupation was gaining traction with both parties. The amendment even had the co-sponsorship of Peter Welch, D-Vermont, the House Democrats’ deputy whip.
Chaffetz’s plan for the Rules Committee, where his amendment needed to go before it could be debated in the House, was simple: Keep it short, since the small committee is already overwhelmed.
“You can’t really wax philosophic—you only have about 30 seconds,” Chaffetz says. Inside the committee room, Chaffetz argues that U.S. troops have been extremely successful, but the country no longer needs to be involved in nation building—in 35 seconds flat. He came across confidently, as if passage were a foregone conclusion.
The kick is good.
The committee passes the amendment, and it will be heard in a late-night debate on the House floor. When the amendment finally comes to a vote, it’s voted down 123 in favor and 294 against—including the rest of Utah’s delegates. Ironically, a nearly identical amendment sponsored by two Democrats gathers 204 yea votes and fails by a margin of less than 20 votes. Less than a month later, President Obama would announce plans for expedited troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Chaffetz frets over foreign intervention and nation-building, but he’s no peacenik and asserts that saving costs to taxpayers is the greater priority. In fact, the amendment he co-sponsored that did pass that week de-funded the U.S. Institute of Peace, a small diplomatic unit in the Defense Department that works on the ground with U.S. troops to help better relations with the people the U.S. military engages with. The program has been lauded by generals that include Gen. David Petraeus for helping secure the safety of troops by bringing diplomatic finesse to complement the efforts of combat forces. Norman Ornstein of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute jabbed Chaffetz and his co-sponsor’s effort on the amendment as the “Most-Head-in-the-Sand-Neanderthal-Effort” of the year.
Chaffetz takes no umbrage for cutting a tiny chunk out of the bloated defense budget, even if it means de-funding the institute.
As for the troop-withdrawal amendment, Chaffetz laments that House floor debate is limited to only 10 minutes, unlike in the Senate where debate is unlimited.
“Which is also very appealing,” Chaffetz says, flashing a toothy grin at another of his routine hints of a run for senate.