Utah lawmaker who survived horrific plane crash likely to run against Orrin Hatch

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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A popular GOP state senator from Utah who survived a horrific plane crash in Guatemala three years ago says it’s likely he’ll challenge Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch for his seat in 2012.

“I’m leaning that way,” Dan Liljenquist said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “I have been for sometime.”

Liljenquist, 37, survived a plane crash in August 2008 in the jungles of Central America that killed 11 out of 14 people, including friends and employees, on a humanitarian mission.

“We had a catastrophic engine failure at 10,000 feet in the middle of nowhere in Guatemala,” he recalled.

Liljenquist’s body was on fire when pulled from the wreckage of the single-engine Cessna. He shattered both his legs in the crash and broke one ankle in 16 places. To this day, he has burn marks on his legs where skin melted into muscle, which he showed during the interview.

“My foot was totally off my leg. My boot was separated,” he told TheDC.

Liljenquist was knocked unconscious during the actual crash. The person next to him on the plane died. He lost a total of four friends in the crash.

Liljenquist said he doesn’t talk about the tragedy very much while politicking “because in some ways I don’t think it’s relevant.”

But he acknowledges that it has influenced him not to wait to go after what he wants.

“I’m not interested in sitting around and waiting for 20 years to do stuff I want to do … I feel very lucky to be alive,” he said.

And it appears Liljenquist, who still suffers pain and permanent disability in his ankle, isn’t going to wait to go after Hatch, who tea partiers have targeted for defeat. If he runs, Liljenquist would challenge Hatch from the right.

“God bless Orrin Hatch for his service to the state,” he said in the interview. “But we have a different philosophy on what the federal government should and should not do.”

Previewing what would likely be a line of attack against Hatch in a campaign, Liljenquist said Hatch was “advocating in the early nineties for the individual mandate, that the federal government role was to drive people into insurance products.”

“To me, I’m looking for leadership. And I haven’t seen it,” he said.

In a gesture viewed as encouragement to Liljenquist to get in the race, the tea party-aligned group FreedomWorks on Friday announced that they are giving him the “Legislative Entrepreneur of the Year Award” for “his remarkable accomplishments towards reining in government spending in Utah” as a state senator.

In October, Governing Magazine named Liljenquist the “legislative public official of the year,” citing his efforts at reforming the state’s pension model.

Liljenquist, who studied at Brigham Young University and later went to law school at the University of Chicago, said entitlement reform would “absolutely” play a major role in his campaign if he runs.

Liljenquist has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president.

“In the state of Utah, Romney is very well respected for what he did on the Olympics,” he said.

Liljenquist said he and his wife will make a decision about getting in the race by the end of the month and an announcement will be made by early next year.

The biggest consideration is how a campaign will affect his six kids, he said.

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