LOGAN — He doesn't go to Washington, D.C., just to pass laws, though that obviously figures big in his responsibilities.
He's not there to fix each and every problem — Congress isn't the proper venue for some issues.
Rather, one of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop's main missions as a federal lawmaker has been to undermine his own power. That's right — he wants to put a check on the authority and reach of Washington, D.C., power brokers.
"The ultimate goal is to make sure that we restore federalism so that the people have a greater voice in how they govern their own lives," he says, seated at a picnic table in Logan's Willow Park. "That was the purpose of federalism — to give people at the local level the ability to make decisions for themselves."
To be sure, the Brigham City Republican's key aim as a lawmaker has been to advocate for Utah. But the eight-term House member, seeking his ninth and final term in the 1st District post, thinks state and local officials are better positioned to solve problems. Checking the reach of federal power has undergirded his tenure in Congress, been a constant, and will still be a priority, if reelected.
"The sad part is that so often, people who go back to Washington, they want to solve problems. And the question ought to be asked first — not how do we solve the problem, but should we solve the problem," he said, suggesting the federal government isn't always the ideal place to seek fixes. "States innately have more creativity, more flexibility. They can become... laboratories of democracy."
As he wages what will likely be his last campaign, he thinks there's plenty more to do to return power back to state and local government. Significantly, he also notes the two remaining years he can serve as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources before he'd be term limited out. With the broad expanses of federally owned land in Utah, it's a key position, he says, and he's timing his planned departure from the U.S. House, presuming he wins in November, with the end of his tenure as chairman.
He'll have had his biggest potential impact for Utah heading the natural resources committee. Also figuring in his plans — he's always believed in term limits.
As for the competition — Democrat Lee Castillo, Eric Eliason of the United Utah Party and Adam Davis of the Green Party — Bishop doesn't think they reflect the outlook of most in the 1st District. The district covers Weber County, northern Davis County and eight other counties in northern and northeastern Utah.
"I am the only Republican that's running. I am the only conservative that's running," he said. "Philosophically, I am in the mainstream of what this district is."
If the past is any gauge, Bishop's challengers will have a tough time unseating him. In his eight bids, he's won by landslide-like margins, mustering between 60.9 percent and 71.5 percent of the general election vote, according to state election data. In 2016, he beat Democrat Peter Clemens by a 65.9 percent-26.4 percent margin.
'I TRUST STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS'
Bishop's critics have blasted his support of last year's decision by the administration of President Donald Trump to reduce the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah. Foes of the move say it opens up the possibility of exploitation of the rugged, isolated terrain by energy companies and others. But in an interview at a Cache County Republican Party campaign event in Logan, Bishop countered that and said his stance has been twisted.
"I've never said I'm going to sell off everything to the private bidder. That's a simple lie," he said.
Rather, he defended reducing the footprint of the area controlled by the feds, saying he thinks state and local governments are better positioned to serve as gatekeepers. Federal oversight of such terrain, sometimes by managers "oblivious to the reality of where they are," has been "the biggest obstacle" in allowing access, he said.
"That is why I trust state and local governments more than the federal government, because they live in this area, they know what the people need, they know what the situations are," he said.
Such issues are the domain of the natural resources committee, hence his emphasis on the import of the body and his role as chairman. Indeed, he noted several measures under his leadership that have garnered both Democratic and GOP support, most recently a proposal to address a backlog in needed maintenance at national parks and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies.
Defending Hill Air Force Base and promoting national defense have also been key focuses for Bishop, he said.
Though many military bases have been closed or reduced, Hill, he said, is safe, "at least in the near future." He further noted changes under the Trump Administration and recent defense spending appropriations that bode for a stronger military.
A PATHWAY TO CITIZENSHIP
As in many locales, immigration is a big issue in Weber County given the local immigrant population, many from Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Bishop reiterated his stance that beefing up border security is the first step in tackling the issue, slowing the flow of undocumented immigrants.
"There is so much angst and anger over that issue that you're never going to solve any other issues until we can honestly look constituents in the face and say we have control of the border both in the south and the north," he said.
Addressing the border, it becomes easier to zero in on other aspects of the immigration issue, including how to handle younger undocumented immigrants who now have lawful status under the Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, crafted under President Barack Obama. The future of DACA recipients — many of them brought to the United States illegally by their parents when they were very young — has been a red-hot issue and Bishop expressed support for granting them a means to remain in the country.
"It's easy to come up with the program that will try and minimize the number (of undocumented immigrants) that are coming over in the first place," he said. "But also then give a pathway so that the kids who are brought in here not of their own accord have a mechanism to become legal citizens. That's not going to be a tough sell."
Looking beyond the 2018 election and his final term, if reelected, Bishop hopes his replacement has local or state government experience, keeps a focus on checking federal power. Bishop taught high school history and served in the Utah House for 16 years, including a stint as speaker, before his election to the U.S. House in 2002.
"Attorneys and businessmen who go directly to the House or the Senate, they sometimes think that's the way it ought to be. Those with local government experience realize there is a better way," Bishop said.
When he ultimately leaves his U.S. House post, he's mulling a return to education.
There aren't many 69-year-olds seeking a career in public education, he joked, "but it would be fun. I'd like to see if I can actually do it again."