A former Air Force pilot and author who counts conservative pundit Glenn Beck among his fans, newly elected Republican Chris Stewart is a fervent believer in American exceptionalism. He is fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln’s description of the United States as “the last, best hope of Earth.” Like other recently elected GOP political newcomers, Stewart ran for office because he believes Americans’ traditional freedoms are under threat. He calls Washington “in some ways the most fundamentally dishonest town in our nation.”
Stewart and his nine siblings grew up on a dairy farm in southern Idaho. His parents, both Mormon, had moved there from nearby Utah to start a family. Before taking up farming, Stewart’s father had served in the Air Force. Stewart enrolled in Utah State University in 1978, taking time off to serve as a Mormon missionary in Texas before completing a degree in economics. While in college, he married his high school sweetheart.
As a teenager, Stewart recalls being skeptical of his father’s recommendation that he enlist in the military. But after graduating from college, he entered the service in 1984. In 14 years in uniform, Stewart attained the rank of major and in 1995 set the world record for the fastest, nonstop flight around the world in a B-1 Lancer. (His crew flew nearly 23,000 miles in just over 36 hours, for an average speed of about 630 mph.) Five of Stewart’s six sons also have served in the military.
Stewart began writing in the military and after his discharge took it up full time to be able to spend more time with his children. After two years, though, Stewart says he found himself “bored” and bought the Shipley Group, an energy and environment consulting firm that also does government and corporate security work. He says that his private-sector experience has had a “huge” impact on his political views. He favors a balanced-budget amendment, a 25 percent top marginal income-tax rate, and a dramatically reduced federal budget. “Stimulus spending, bailouts for Wall Street, local education, Amtrak, farm subsidies, medical research, alternative-energy development, transportation programs … the list of federal spending programs that can be cut goes on and on,” he says on his campaign website.
While he was running a business, Stewart’s writing career also flourished. He has written two New York Times best sellers, 2009’s Seven Miracles That Saved America and 2011’s The Miracle of Freedom. But Stewart says he found more meaning in writing a six-part fiction series, The Great and Terrible, a religious epic about the struggle between good and evil. Earlier in 2012, Stewart, who calls Beck a friend, began collaborating with the far-right commentator to adapt The Great and Terrible into a 10-volume e-book series aimed at a general audience.
The 2nd District race became an open-seat contest after its current occupant, Democrat Jim Matheson, announced he would run for a newly created seat in the 4th District that was seen as friendlier to Democrats than the redrawn 2nd, which already was the most conservative in the nation represented by a Democrat. Stewart emerged on top in an acrimonious GOP primary. One of the candidates, Eureka Mayor Milt Hanks,alleged just before delegates began casting ballots at the April party convention that four other contenders—former House Speaker David Clark, consultant Chuck Williams, trucking executive Harold Wallack, and businesswoman Cherilyn Eagar—tried to pull him into a plan to hit Stewart with negative attacks. Those candidates angrily denied the charges and accused Stewart of starting a rumor of a conspiracy against him to attract voter sympathy.
Still, Stewart prevailed with more than 60 percent of the vote. And a subsequent Utah Republican Party investigation found no evidence of plots among candidates. Given the district’s conservative tilt, Stewart had little trouble dispatching Democrat Jay Seegmiller in the general election.
Ben Schreckinger contributed to this article.