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Chaffetz Found Red Out of the Blue

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) won his seat in Congress by running to the right of an incumbent Republican.

But more than 20 years ago, he was a Utah co-chairman for the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, to whom he has a family connection.

Chaffetz, who since his election last fall has become a leading conservative figure in the culture wars, is an example of how blood is thicker than politics.

In the past month, Chaffetz has emerged as a vocal opponent of the D.C. Council’s recent decision to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. He has co-sponsored legislation aimed at blocking the council’s effort and is the top Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill.

But while other freshmen with similar views in the GOP are written off by Democrats as ideologically antiquated or one-hit wonders, Chaffetz has been able to forge uncommon friendships with several liberal members of the Massachusetts delegation through his family connection with Dukakis.

“After he won the primary, I told him I had to bring him closer to the center,” said Dukakis, now a professor at Northeastern University. “He told me, ‘It’s the only place I can go.’”

In describing his family ties, Chaffetz said, “I wish I had a flip chart.”

Chaffetz’s father, John, was previously married to Kitty Dukakis. The couple had a son, also named John.

“Well, the best thing that ever happened to me is they got divorced,” Rep. Chaffetz said. “Then my dad married my mother and had me. Kitty married Michael.”

John Chaffetz Dukakis, the Congressman’s half-brother, and Rep. Chaffetz were close while growing up, and John Chaffetz Dukakis knew Capitol Hill from his service as a staffer for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 1980s.

So when Jason Chaffetz was elected to Congress in 2008, John Chaffetz Dukakis called his longtime friend Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

“He asked me to watch out for his brother,” said McGovern, who gave John Chaffetz Dukakis a ticket to Jason Chaffetz’s swearing-in last January. “We all feel like he’s family because of his connection to Massachusetts.”

Rep. Chaffetz is a bit of a black sheep in the Massachusetts clan. Aside from hailing from Utah by way of California, he ran on a platform to the right of Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon and won the primary by 20 points.

Asked whether his conservative opinions, especially his recent attempts to block same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, could put Chaffetz at odds with the tightly knit and fiercely liberal East Coast delegation, McGovern said not necessarily.

“Blood is thicker than water in the Massachusetts delegation,” McGovern said. “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”

Dukakis called Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) to explain his relationship to Chaffetz, after introducing him to Delahunt on Inauguration Day.

“I asked him if he understood the connection,” Dukakis said. “He said, ‘It took me about 15 minutes.’”

Delahunt said Chaffetz is well-liked by Democrats.

“He is a very impressive young man,” Delahunt said. “He has excellent people skills, and he knows how to state his position in a way that is respectful. He’s someone with a future here because of that.”

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