Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is bringing a Democrat from the East Coast to one of the most Republican districts in the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Sunday and Monday, Chaffetz and Rep. Elijah Cummings are scheduled to tour areas in Utah's 3rd Congressional District to learn about the pressing issues facing Utahns right now. It is the second leg of an agreement made by the two lawmakers to tour each other's districts and learn about the issues their constituents face.
"It is a great opportunity to share a Utah perspective with somebody who has never been here before," Chaffetz told the Daily Herald.
Chaffetz said it was possible that Cummings may have once switched planes at the Salt Lake City International Airport, but the Maryland Democrat has never had the chance to learn about western issues in such a way. He hopes the two-day trip will allow Cummings to learn why certain issues, such as land and energy issues, are important to Utahns.
On the docket for the two congressmen is a flight from Salt Lake City to Moab, a trip down the Colorado River, a discussion with various elected officials from rural Utah counties, a tour of Arches National Park, a radio town hall meeting on KSL radio, a meeting with Gov. Gary Herbert and a tour of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Welfare Square.
Chaffetz said he hopes to show off Utah to Cummings but also explain to him some of the challenges the state faces.
While Moab may be a top travel destination in the state, Chaffetz intends to educate Cummings about some of the issues the area faces such as the Moab Tailing Project, which seeks to move about 16 million tons of uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River.
Chaffetz hopes viewing the area will allow Cummings to see why the federal government should be spending some of its resources to clean up the area by removing the tailings.
"When he sees it, he will get it," Chaffetz said.
The scheduled discussion with rural county leaders is aimed at informing Cummings on topics like sage grouse, management of public lands and energy issues. Chaffetz said the discussion with Herbert will focus on Utah's healthy economic outlook.
The two toured Cummings' district in June. Chaffetz said it was a great learning experience for him to see the inner city-based district that covers half of Baltimore and learn about what issues are important to those Americans.
Cummings took Chaffetz to an AIDS clinic, held a town hall meeting with him at a senior center and also had Chaffetz meet with youth, many of whom had experienced a run-in with the law in their life, at a center that gave individuals job training and sought to help them get their lives back on the right track.
Chaffetz said he learned about a term entitled "food deserts" while touring Cummings' district. He said he learned a food desert was an area where it was hard to obtain affordable and nutritious food, something many living in Utah more than likely take for granted.
The tour gave Chaffetz a perspective on what the needs are for Cummings' constituents, and gave him insight on why Cummings votes the way he does on certain policy issues.
Chaffetz has a secondary motive for the trip as well. The three-term congressman has his eyes set on taking over as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in January, a committee on which Cummings is the ranking member.
Chaffetz hopes the two working together can show the Republican steering committee that will be selecting the leader of the committee -- assuming the House remains Republican after the November midterms -- he has a positive relationship with Cummings, something with which the past chair has struggled.
"Part of my pitch to the steering committee is that I do have a good working relationship with Cummings," Chaffetz said. "He is very influential on the Democratic side of the aisle."
That working relationship will be on display during the next two days. Whether it pays off with Chaffetz winning the chairmanship remains to be seen, but it at least can give Americans some hope that some Republicans and Democrats are interested in working together or at the very least are willing to learn about one another's perspectives.