New Utah congressman has ties that bind: family
The reach of the Stewart clan is impressive. Members of this prodigious Utah family advise the governor and attorney general. They wear judge’s robes, register as federal lobbyists and help lead a company that trains federal workers.
Now one of them is a member of Congress.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, took the oath of office just a few weeks ago and is still figuring out what it means to be an elected official, but he knows his new position will alter the way he can talk to some of his relatives.
“I’ve said to him personally, ‘Chris, this is going to change the dynamic of our relationship, which is pretty close, far more than we anticipate,’ ” said Tim Stewart, the congressman’s little brother and a longtime federal lobbyist. “ ‘Frankly, I never have to buy you a Christmas gift again, which I’m grateful for.’ ”
Clearly that’s a joke, but it is a joke based on the serious and detailed ethics rules that Chris Stewart now must follow. Gifts from lobbyists are not allowed. Then there are the judicial guidelines that apply to federal Judge Ted Stewart, one of the congressman’s older brothers, which prohibit directly lobbying members of Congress.
All told, it has left the brothers a little skittish in their personal conversations, which for decades have included heavy doses of politics and public policy.
As Cody Stewart, Gov. Gary Herbert’senergy adviser and the congressman’s nephew, puts it: “People say you are not supposed to talk about religion and politics around the dinner table, but that’s all Stewarts know how to talk about.”
The family business • Actually, those conversations didn’t originate as one Stewart passed the stuffing to another; they took place on a small dairy farm in Weston, Idaho, as the children milked cows. Family patriarch, Boyd Stewart, would talk to his 10 kids about his military experience and the politics of the day, from the Cuban missile crisis to the rise of Ronald Reagan.
He would often tell his children: “Don’t trust big government, big business or big labor.”
And Boyd and Sybil Stewart drilled into them a family creed, which now hangs on Chris Stewart’s wall emblazoned on a cross-stitch: “This family’s motto is duty, honor, service to God, family and country.”
Boyd Stewart, who died in 2005, served as a pilot in World War II and later in life as mayor of North Logan.
His children have interpreted the creed as a call to join the military, become teachers and get involved in public policy. But the family’s deep involvement in government didn’t start until Jim Hansen decided to run for Congress in 1980.
Ted Stewart, a lawyer and veteran of the Army JAG Corps, was looking for ways to get involved in Republican politics, and he volunteered to help Hansen, then the Utah House speaker. In a few short months, Ted Stewart went from being a general volunteer to a trusted adviser and when Hansen was elected, he became the new congressman’s first chief of staff.
After five years, Ted Stewart returned to Utah, where he worked for Gov. Norm Bangerter and later Gov. Mike Leavitt, before President Bill Clinton nominated him to the federal bench. In 1992, he also ran for the U.S. Senate, though he didn’t make it out of the GOP convention.
But Ted Stewart’s success in Washington, D.C., and later in Utah’s Capitol created an interest that spread among his brothers and children.
“I guess the virus stuck with the family,” he said.
To show how far that “virus” spread, Hansen, the family’s political mentor, said: “[Boyd Stewart] once told me that, all told, over the 22 years I was there, something like 50 Stewarts worked for me in one capacity or another.”
Hansen believes that may be an exaggeration. It could have been a joke. Tim Stewart, who served for a year as Hansen’s staff director on the Natural Resources Committee, said the actual number is probably around a dozen, maybe 15.
Chris Stewart wasn’t among them. He was serving his Mormon mission in Dallas when Ted Stewart first went to Washington. He was in the Air Force when his brother ran for Senate and, when he got out, he didn’t follow Ted or Tim into the public arena or his siblings Bill or Julie into the classroom.
Instead he bought a consulting business called Shipley Group that took government contracts to conduct environmental training, and he started writing books.
Entering the fray • Tim Stewart followed the state’s once-a-decade redistricting efforts closely in 2011. He noticed the Legislature removed his brother’s Farmington home from the 1st Congressional District, where Rep. Rob Bishop resides, and placed it in the redrawn 2nd District.
He mentioned it to Chris Stewart, and that’s all it took.
“I immediately knew I was going to run,” said the new congressman. His decision came so rapidly that it’s now a family joke that he told his wife by text.
Stewart turned to his family first, getting political advice from Ted, who because of his job couldn’t help on the campaign. He also reached out to Ted’s son Cody and his son-in-law Luke Johnson, both of whom have extensive D.C. experience.
At first, Cody Stewart was pleased and excited, offering to help in any way he could. The next day he called his uncle with a warning.
“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? It is not as fun as people think it is. There is a lot of drudgery,’ ” Cody Stewart said. “ ‘And you are always in the public eye.’ ”
His uncle responded that if it was so bad, politicians wouldn’t keep running for re-election. Cody Stewart thought that was a pretty good answer.
The election wasn’t close, not after Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, chose to switch from the 2nd Congressional District to run in the new 4th District. Chris Stewart won the GOP nomination after a divisive fracas at the state convention, thencruised to an easy victory in November.
For Cody Stewart, having his uncle in the House will make his job as the governor’s energy adviser easier.
“It will actually be helpful to have another friend in the delegation to work with,” he said.
But it has complicated Tim Stewart’s professional life.
Avoiding conflicts • When Tim Stewart decided to launch his lobbying career, his brother Chris was there for him. Chris Stewart’s Shipley Group hired Tim Stewart as its lobbyist, paying him about $250,000 over eight years ending in 2010. He was one of many family members hired at Shipley.
And when Chris Stewart launched his campaign, family members, including Tim and Marcia Stewart, returned the favor, offering to assist his campaign and give him money.
He even slept on Tim Stewart’s couch when he took trips to Washington, D.C., but that kind of close association had to stop when it became clear that Chris Stewart was going to win his election.
“I’m a registered lobbyist. I can’t house him, so he stays at a hotel now,” said Tim Stewart, before Chris found a place to rent in Washington. “We have had the conversation that we have to avoid any sense of perceived impropriety.”
That can be hard to do with their respective careers.
Tim Stewart helps manage the lobbying firm created by former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and has shifted his assignments to distance himself from clients in his brother’s district. For instance, he stopped lobbying and consulting for the University of Utah, a role Bennett now handles personally. And the firm also has a contract with Southern Utah University, overseen by other partners.
Tim Stewart said Chris can talk to him about politics, but he can’t bring any business before his brother.
“It is just not worth the hassle that would come out of it,” he said.
Chris Stewart said the two have had only limited conversations about politics since the election, and they have agreed not to exchange presents or buy each other meals.
He has a little more leeway with his brother Ted Stewart, the U.S. District Court judge.
Still, Ted Stewart knows Congress could weigh in on new sentencing guidelines, budgets or even his pay and while he wouldn’t rule out talking to his congressman brother, he said he would be cautious in doing so.
“My guess is I will be very circumspect before I will lobby Chris individually on these type of things,” he said, “because of the admonition from our administrative office that individual judges not do so.”
Chris Stewart said he plans to abstain from voting on judicial pay raises and would not seek his brother’s counsel on other judiciary-related issues.
“It would be hard for me to vote one way or the other since my brother is a federal judge,” he said.
It’s highly unusual for one family to have so many relatives in power positions, but Utah has some recent examples of members of Congress who must navigate the jobs held by family members.
Family ties • Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s son Scott created a lobbying firm with two of the senator’s close confidants — Jack Martin and Laird Walker. They represented the dietary supplement industry and pharmaceutical companies, areas in which Sen. Hatch has been a leader for years.
The senator said his son wouldn’t talk to him about politics and felt ground down by news reports that highlighted the close association between his lobbying firm and his father’s Senate work.
“It actually was not good for our relationship,” Sen. Hatch said, “because he’s a political scientist and he wouldn’t talk about anything.”
His son stopped lobbying in 2010 because “he just got sick of the cynicism.”
Scott Hatch did not respond to a request for comment.
President Barack Obama nominated Rep. Jim Matheson’s older brother, Scott, to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009. Scott Matheson Jr. had previously helped run his brother’s campaigns, but now that he is on the bench, he has stopped engaging in each race.
Jim Matheson said they don’t talk about any issue involving the judiciary but still have some limited conversations about politics, with the judicial guidelines being stricter on the topic than those that govern members of Congress.
“Not only won’t he cross the line, he won’t go near the line,” he said.
Chris Stewart says the same thing about his brother Ted. But all of this is new to him and, after hours of ethics training, he turned to a top adviser and joked: “We are all going to jail. It is just a matter of when and for what.”
Actually, he said the big takeaway is to always ask ethics staffers, but he set a different rule for himself and at least his brother Tim, the lobbyist. If it raises a question, don’t do it.
As he said: “It is just easier for both of us if we don’t get into situations where we have to ask.”
That may result in more conversations about religion as one Stewart passes the stuffing to another.