Chaffetz’ iPhone gaffe lands him well-funded Utah challenger

In this 2008 file photo, Rep. Jason Chaffetz addresses the Center for the Study of Ethics during a debate at Utah Valley University, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 1, 2008 | Photo courtesy of Don LaVange, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rep. Jason Chaffetz has strolled to four easy re-election wins in his Republican-friendly Utah congressional district, but now he’s facing a surprising challenge from a Democratic political newcomer who raised nearly a half million dollars — by tapping into anger over Chaffetz’ recent comment suggesting people should spend their money on health insurance instead of iPhones.

Democratic challenger Dr. Kathryn Allen speaks during an interview at a clinic. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah is considered pretty untouchable in his mostly Republican district, but Allen has raised nearly $500,000 in just a few weeks by tapping into growing anger over Chaffetz’ recent comments suggesting people should invest in health care rather than iPhones. Salt Lake City, Utah, March 14, 2017 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Dr. Kathryn Allen has been transformed from a political unknown into a liberal hero for calling out Chaffetz on Twitter, giving her an early boost in name recognition ahead of the November 2018 election.

Bolstered by a Twitter shout-out from comedian Rosie O’Donnell and a mention on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, Allen’s Crowdpac page donations spiked from about $18,000 the day Chaffetz uttered the comment to $467,000 as of Friday morning. The donations come from around the country and most are under $200, Allen said.

Chaffetz’ was asked on March 7 by CNN how lower-income Americans would get access to health insurance when the Affordable Care Act is replaced.

“Americans have choices,” he responded. “Maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”

The remarks triggered a firestorm of criticism on social media with people comparing how many iPhones they could buy if they didn’t have to pay medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. He later conceded on Fox News that his point about people being self-reliant didn’t come out as smoothly as it could have.


Read more: Lee, Hatch speak to new health care bill, Chaffetz catches flack for iPhone comment


The comment infuriated Allen, a family physician who spent nearly three decades working at a clinic in one of Salt Lake City’s poorer suburbs.

“I found it absolutely tone deaf,” said Allen. “I have seen people have to decide whether to eat or go to the doctor.”

She had been planning to announce her candidacy in April, but said in an interview that Chaffetz provided her with a “golden moment” to do so earlier.

This week, Chaffetz said in a statement that he is “sympathetic to the tough choices people have to make in the face of rising health care prices” and insisted he’s working hard to fix what he called flaws in President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Spokeswomen for Chaffetz said he was not available for an interview and declined to answer questions about Allen.

Even if Allen manages to keep up the flow of campaign donations, her bid to unseat Chaffetz will be a longshot.

Half of the voters are registered Republicans in Chaffetz’ 3rd congressional district, which stretches from Salt Lake City’s southeastern suburbs to desert towns in southeastern Utah and includes heavily conservative Mormon areas.

Joseph Ney, an investment adviser in the district who considers himself a conservative, did not vote for Chaffetz in 2016 and had not heard of Allen but defended Chaffetz’ iPhone comments.

“People sometimes just need to choose how to allocate their assets. I don’t get to buy everything I want,” said Ney, who lives in Cottonwood Heights, an upper middle class Salt Lake City suburb.

Chaffetz defeated his last four Democratic opponents by at least 46 percentage points. But none of them raised as much as money as Allen or generated as much attention.

President Donald Trump’s election victory led Allen to consider running for office, and she decided to do so after attending a Chaffetz town hall in February. He was drowned out by boos and grilled by constituents livid with his refusal to investigate Trump’s alleged conflicts of interest and ties to Russia.

It’s the first run for public office for Allen, a lifelong Democrat who came from California to Utah in 1984 for a medical residency and stayed.

She admires European style social democratic governments, considers health care a right, wants public lands to remain under federal control and was known better in Utah before she announced her campaign for her singing in vocal groups — including the women’s choir “Darena” that performs Balkan music and appeared at Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics.

Her supporters include Kimberly Clark, a Democrat from the rural coal town of Price, who interpreted Chaffetz’ remarks as implying the poor should live without smartphones.

“My cellphone is the only communication I have,” said Clark, who said she lives off disability payments and struggles to make her monthly payments for her house, car and insurance.

Chaffetz tried to turn the tables on Allen in a fundraising email this week to supporters, saying his next campaign will be different because Allen is backed by O’Donnell, an actress-comedian who has feuded with Trump and lambasted conservatives for years.

Chaffetz ended 2016 with $408,000 in cash, his most recent campaign finance report said. His office declined to say how much he has now. The next filing is due in mid-April.

To win, Allen must stake out positions that set her apart from Democrats like O’Donnell and Maddow, said Brigham Young University political science professor Jeremy Pope. The last Democrat in Congress for Utah, Jim Matheson, was a moderate who served from 2001-2015.

Allen knows some voters don’t like O’Donnell and Maddow but said a supportive tweet from O’Donnell to her 1 million followers was priceless in getting her name out to voters.

“I didn’t even know how to tweet two weeks ago,” said the 63-year-old Allen, who now has 20,000 followers.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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29 Comments

  • Lastdays March 18, 2017 at 9:19 am

    I think what he meant was, if a person can own a smart phone, then they can afford many other things too.
    But whatever, what Chaffetz and others need to do is REMOVE the health care being attached to the IRS and filing tax returns.
    It’s B.S. that those two are tied together.

  • Craig March 18, 2017 at 9:31 am

    I’m sorry, but he has a point. I got on an argument with a lady who claimed she could not afford her prescriptions. I asked her how she could then afford the 3 1/2 packs of cigarettes (yes, 3 1/2) she smoked everyday.

    It does sometimes get ridiculous when people expect others to pay for their necessities.

  • Craig March 18, 2017 at 9:55 am

    A man told me that he was living with a lady with two childrenn, but he’s careful not to do anything that would risk keeping her and her children on Medicaid. He then showed me the $3500 bike he just bought for endurance races,

    I am tired of people demanding others pay for their necessities so they have money for non-necessities.

    Yes, the Congressman is correct.

    It’s time to offend some people.

    • ladybugavenger March 18, 2017 at 11:05 am

      It’s frustrating Craig. I worked at a major retailer and as women are using their food stamps they have their nails done and hair colored (I know not all get those services for free) while driving nice cars! I’m not judging but when I was on food stamps I was couch surfing, struggling, jobless, 2 kids, a disabled husband, homeless for 11 months (with kids) and I looked like a mess! I don’t know how these people can sleep at night. Now, I’m blessed with a home, a job, kids are raised, I haven’t been on assistance for 7 years, husband is still disabled but I frick’n look good! Lol ?

  • Proud Rebel March 18, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Some people need to be offended!
    I’m a lifelong Republican, and a conservative. However, I detest Chaffetz. He is wishy-washy, and IMNHO has no thoughts of his own. Apparently his puppeteers let him get off his string again…
    That being said, I do have to agree with his statement here. The decisions that we make on a daily basis, are ones we should have to live with. Big brother shouldn’t bail us out, every time we make a poor decision.
    As to the people who think they must have a smartphone for communications, let me remind you that there are perfectly good phones on the market, that are much cheaper to buy and own, and many cellphone companies that are far cheaper than the top of the line companies.
    As to health insurance being a “right,” all I can do is laugh!

    • Henry March 18, 2017 at 11:20 am

      I agree with you. I’m also no Chaffetz fan, but this iPhone controversy is ridiculous; Obama said basically the same thing several years ago.

      What’s even more laughable to former Democrat voters is when the Utah Democrat party has candidates like Dr Allen. Admiration for European-style socialism and support from Rosie O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow might play well in Vermont or California, but not so well in the rest of the country.

    • comments March 18, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Exactly, when people can’t pay their own way, including the elderly, the disabled, and small children, they should be set out in the streets to die of whatever ails them. It’s only fair right? And isn’t it what Jesus would do?

      • Henry March 18, 2017 at 1:12 pm

        Then is seems odd, Bob, that critics have called the initial Republican proposal “Obamacare Lite”. What specifically in the plan makes you think that it will initiate a transition to Charles Dickens’ London of the early 1800’s?

        • comments March 19, 2017 at 12:30 pm

          I’m not talking about the new law. I’m talking about certain people’s specific mentality. I’m one of those that feels like no person should die of a treatable illness in the richest country to ever exist. If it were up to creatures like Paul Ryan it would be ‘Charles Dickens’ London of the early 1800’s’.

          • Henry March 19, 2017 at 1:21 pm

            We disagree then. I place Paul Ryan on the same low personal-level as Jason Chaffetz, but I don’t think either (or anyone) wants to see sick people die in the street.

            There are a lot of even more sleazy politicians, like Schumer and Pelosi, that pull out the Dickens analogy to use for their own selfish political interests.

          • comments March 19, 2017 at 7:32 pm

            “I don’t think either (or anyone) wants to see sick people die in the street.”

            Your presuming that these politicians have some type of morality. I presume they’re cold and callous enough that they do not. They either don’t care, chase money at the detriment of the public, or some are actually malicious. Many in politics are sociopathic. There personality traits fit well with politics.

          • Henry March 19, 2017 at 8:24 pm

            I agree that too many politicians “don’t care, chase money at the detriment of the public, or some are actually malicious”.

            I don’t agree that they would “set (large numbers of people) out in the streets to die”. However, I’m sure that a few politicians have given some of their opponents the “Jimmy Hoffa” treatment.

      • aviatormh March 20, 2017 at 4:27 am

        It’s not what Jesus would do. Jesus taught that it’s your responsibility, my responsibility to feed and shelter the needy. I don’t ever recall him teaching that it’s Rome’s duty to feed the hungry. Jesus would stop by YOUR house and say I have given you all that you have, for not because of me thou would have nothing. How now then will you not feed your brothern. It’s your job, my job the job of religious organizations not the job of Rome, ie the government

        • comments March 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm

          So doctors and hospitals should give the needy free medical care is what you’re implying? Because it’s what Jesus would do?

          • Henry March 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm

            And free food and housing too. Can I also have an order of fries?

  • comments March 18, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Guess who pays for Chaffetz’s health care?

  • comments March 18, 2017 at 11:14 am

    The new republican plan: everyone who can’t afford any type of insurance will be issued a little paper cup which they can take out to the streets and panhandle. This will encourage the poor to entrepreneurship. They will learn to “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and learn to be self sufficient. If the panhandling doesn’t earn them enough money then let them eat cake. And can we assume Mr Chaffetz uses an android phone?

  • comments March 18, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    So here’s the plan: If you can’t pay the $20,000 or so cash for a simple outpatient surgery like an appendix or gallbladder etc you will be escorted out of the building by armed security. You will be placed into the street where the security staff will say a customary “good luck” and you’ll be sent on your way. You can either wander around the streets and die a slow painful death or go home and die, doesn’t matter. But most importantly HEALTHCARE IS NOT A RIGHT! HEALTHCARE ONLY FOR THOSE WHO CAN PAY. The official written policy will actually be “good luck”. You’ll even get an official republican gov’t letter in the mail that says: “We’re sorry to hear about your troubles, but it’s not our problem. Good luck.”

    • ladybugavenger March 18, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      No worries Bob, this already happens on skid row. It’s going to expand to lower class? Yes, of course! I might be one of these people it happens too. I don’t have health insurance, yet! Fingers crossed my seasonal position turns into a full time position with health insurance. Why don’t I get ACA insurance? Because I’m stubborn and paranoid of Obamacare and I don’t want to pay $186 a month for nothing (that’s a quote from 2015 with a whoppin’ $40 subsidy and I made $13,000 in that year) I had health insurance for 6 months in 2016. But ladybug quit Utah and moved to Oklahoma. Been employed since january 31st no health insurance. ‘m not even calling ACA this year! It’s a waste of my money. Prayers for ladybug ? that I don’t get sick before I get health insurance. I might be the person Bob is talking about, but I hope I don’t go through that!

      #fundraiserforladybugshealthinsurance

      • comments March 19, 2017 at 12:39 pm

        I’d recommend always having insurance if u can get it. I’ve actually been in a position to where they will turn you out to die if you can’t pay. Hospitals are only required to treat emergencies. Go to the ER they’ll patch u up just enough to get u out of the building. In the US people do still die because they can’t afford care, and for perfectly treatable illnesses. Anything is better than nothing when it comes to insurance–if u gotta pay 200-250 etc (its probably more now), I’d say find a way.

    • DRT March 18, 2017 at 4:28 pm

      Nah, it won’t be a letter. It will be a tweet. On your Smart Phone….

    • aviatormh March 20, 2017 at 4:08 am

      And down the slippery slope we go. OK let’s look at this logically as evidenced by the change in what American’s think is a right presently compared to say 1941. And then we can interplate based on that where it’s headed in the future. Who in 1941 thought that having a phone was more important than having savings (probably in the matress, but odds are not in a bank) to cover an emergency. Nobody that’s who. And curious also is that at this point in history it was also widely believed​ that you owed your country where as presently not all but most seem to think Thier country owes them. Seriously what financial planner or class or even liberal University professor will teach “if you can’t afford health insurance and a $600 smart phone, get the phone and plan on welfare to cover your medical needs”. So lf we as a nation decide that health insurance is a right then I can already see that 30 years from now it will be having a new car is a right and the country has to pay for it. After all how can it be a right to have free health Care but not be a right to have the car to take you there. We have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Access to health Care IS a right. Free health Care is not. The pursuit of what makes us happy and healthy is a right but when we get there, demanding we get it for free, is not. On a side note I also have to call you out on “they only have to cover you if it’s an emergency”. That may be true that the hospital only HAS TO COVER an emergency I don’t know that but I do know in the last 5 years I’ve had 4 major shoulder surgeries and only had insurance for the first one. Because of the 4 to 6 month recovery time after every surgery I lost my job and insurance. The total billed on the first surgery was around $40,000. I ended up needing that surgery done 3 more times and was never turned away because I didn’t have insurance or couldn’t pay. In fact IHC has a program for people in my situation that is mostly covered by donations. My point is I have a right to seek treatment so I can use my arm but I don’t have the right to expect it to be fixed for free. What’s ironic is that the one person who taught that it was our responsibility to take care of each other is the same person the liberals will sue you over if they hear you mention his name. Yup I’m talking about Jesus. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

      • comments March 20, 2017 at 12:35 pm

        It sounds like you were able able to get your extremely expensive surgery covered for free? And paid for by a fully socialist program administered by IHC? So had they refused to take care of you for free and demanded payment of $40,000 in advance what would you have done? I would bet that a substantial % of such a program (maybe most) is paid for by gov’t grants and not entirely by donations as your implying.

        • comments March 20, 2017 at 12:37 pm

          ok you said mostly, not entirely. small detail, my bad

        • comments March 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm

          It’s still socialism, my friend. Whether the money was from pvt or gov’t, its still socialism.

          • aviatormh March 20, 2017 at 7:34 pm

            Yes you are right it is socialism. You are however wrong about having surgery for free. The last bill I got from IHC was for $30,000. Ya I’ll be paying for that until I die. My point is that ACCESS is a right but free services is not. You are correct in that I have no idea where all the funding comes from but my point is that here at this hospital you won’t be turned out in the street to die. They will help you.

  • dodgers March 18, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    In 2014 President Obama made a similar statement, but felt no backlash.

    “If you looked at that person’s budget, and you looked at their cable bill, their cell phone bill, other things that they are spending on, it may turn out it’s just that they haven’t prioritized health care because right now everybody is healthy.”

  • mesaman March 18, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    The good Dr Allen, with such important mouths as Rachel Madcow and Rosie whatshername supporting her cause, she should sail through the democrat primaries with little damage to her efforts. But then she has to face the dominant party in Utah, the Republicans. Hildy and her campaign ended up like an avenue after a horse parade so she won’t find much solace from that side, yet she will be supported by the usual dead, gone and buried percenters who would vote for Big Bird. She might note that those who find Chaffetz repulsive are few and far between. It’s her ego and her dollar, so into the fray!

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