Thursday, August 23, 2007

Jim Matheson (UT-02): Red Handed

Jim Matheson (D - UT) won his first 02-District election in 2001, taking over a district that had remained strongly republican since 1994. Shortly after his election, state legislators gerrymandered his district (a move even the Wall Street Journal called “a Republican scam”), to include Utah’s Washington County, with the conservative “retirement community” of St. George.

Matheson surprised them by winning again in 2002 (although by a very small margin of 1600). Matheson’s support in Salt Lake City has grown in each election, while throughout the rest of his district the gap has been steadily shrinking, until 2006, with some of his worst margins overall gained during Presidential election years, with higher voter turnout.

Matheson reigned in a 67,000 vote advantage in Salt Lake County in 2004, taking his district by only about 20,000 votes. In 2006 he took Salt Lake County by 52,000 votes, and the overall district margin of over 49,000, clearly gaining ground in the state. Without Salt Lake County, which made up his entire district before the Dec 2001 gerrymander, he wouldn’t have fared well in any election, but his acceptance in the reddest of states seems to be growing, as his election margins for the entire district show:

2000 – 38,000 votes
2002 – 1,600 votes (less than 1% of the district vote)
2004 – 20,000 votes
2006 – 50,000 votes.
His voting history leaves much to be desired. Chris Cannon he isn’t, but he calling his record “leadership” would be a stretch. As a supporter of children’s welfare (SCHIP), stem cell research, environmental protection, conservation land management, and government accountability, Matheson nonetheless broke with his party and supported handing even more authority to the tainted DOJ with his vote for the FISA (H.R. 3356) “fix.” Several attempts to contact Matheson’s office for a statement, since the vote, have yielded no response, and no press release resides on his official site regarding that specific vote. In his tenure, Matheson has missed only 23 votes, but has a troubling habit of following lock-step with the Bush White House when it comes to Iraq (a habit most local Democrats attribute to his R+ 16 post-gerrymander district). Surprisingly though, his district, in overall polling does support “some kind” of withdrawal when it comes to the war.

On the firing of US Attorneys, however, Matheson has this to say:
"U.S. Attorneys are charged with ensuring that federal laws are enforced and that wrongdoers are fairly tried and when convicted, appropriately punished. There is nothing partisan about their responsibilities. It is very troubling that political pressure or intimidation was brought to bear on how these public servants do their jobs. It's duty to the law, not duty to a political party that should guide their performance.”
Other troubling votes, of course, are his vote against withdrawal timelines in the war-funding bill (although he did support an amendment for withdrawal, with the withdrawal date held confidential), and his vote to authorize the war. To his credit, he did oppose the first three efforts to renew the Patriot Act. rates his closest match in voting record similarity as Melissa Bean (D – IL), a frightening comparison to say the least (Matheson at least offers a slightly more friendly attitude toward immigration).

Locally, Matheson is seen as a hero of sorts, for his fight against “Divine Strake,” the proposed detonation of 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil in the nearby desert, a plan even federal environmental assessment officials admitted would result in radioactive debris being hurled thousands of feet into the atmosphere.

Applying pressure to Matheson on specific votes could prove risky, and cost Utah their only Democrat (“far left” in this state is subject, greatly, to lack of voter education and successful Republican spin), but the tide is shifting, and there is a growing movement inside other red districts for representation more in line with Utah’s values. With a dominant LDS community, Matheson stands great challenges in 2008 should Romney win the GOP nomination, but that same LDS community places great importance on children and family, community, and small government (I am not LDS, so LDS readers, forgive me for the over-simplification for the sake of brevity), a notion local Democrats have not been successful at capitalizing on. Still there are signs of change, as grassroots organizations statewide seek to educate Utahn’s that the GOP today is not their fathers’ Republican Party (see Democracy for Utah’s “Are Your Friends Demo’s but Don’t Know It?”).

Maybe it is time Jim Matheson stepped out on a limb a bit. It is not enough for him to merely win elections. Matheson could be doing much more to promote the Progressive Movement inside of Utah, and it is believed by many (including this blog) that ears are open to change in this state as more people realize how the conservatives have strayed from the traditional Republican values of the late 50’s, early 60’s (also the same time Utah became a red state).

Could Matheson be doing more to promote his own party? Definitely. Could he be pressured to vote against his constituency? Not without help. But it wouldn’t take much. It is possible Matheson could be swayed on issues such as the future FISA vote with a simple promise of local contributors lined up to help him pay for the PR campaign he would have to run, once returning home.
Jim Matheson sits on the following committees:

Member, House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection
Member, Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
Member, Subcommittee on Health
Member, House Committee on Science and Technology
Member, Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation

His top six contributors are:

1 UBS AG $20,300
2 Tosh Inc $18,800
3 SLM Corp $16,750
4 1-800-Contacts $15,500
5 EnergySolutions LLC $11,546
6 Merrill Lynch $11,500


  1. Check out the "Blidget" that I wrote about yesterday. I created one for Matheson, and it allows you to see his recent votes, and links to the OpenCongress page about each vote. I write Matheson all the time to tell him what I think he's doing wrong, and I usually get a letter back justifying his vote on whatever it was. Guess I should start posting the ones I get from him and Hatch on my blog.

  2. We are lucky to have Jim

  3. Matheson voted for the anti-consumer bankruptcy bill, he voted to legalize torture and cancel habeas corpus, and his latest vote was to suspend the Fourth Amendment. Maybe we ought to encourage him to vote less.

  4. Misty,

    I would love to see some of those responses you get, and thanks for the tip on the "Blidget." We'll be checking that often.


    After a while you have to wonder just that. Is it enough to just keep getting a Democrat elected? Or should that Democrat be doing everything he/she can to build up other Democrats in the state? Matheson has done a lot of good things, but he hasn't done much to support his own party. Maybe voting less would be the best he can offer, considering his district. :)

  5. I don't understand how you can think that Congressman Matheson isn't helping Democrats in Utah. Matheson is a huge asset to Utah Dems. He campaigned for all local Democrats running for the legislature. His fundraising basically funded the state party's GOTV effort, which helped sway off the attacks from the pro-education voucher groups. I know he is more conservative then you would like, but so are most Utah Democrats. Your problem isn't with Jim. Its with the values of Democrats who beleive differantly then you do.

  6. Personally I would prefer a Republican voting his conscience to a Democrat scenically choosing positions to stay in office. Habius Corpus is not some liberal ideal that's out lived it's usefulness. If you don't think democrats like Jim Matheson hurt Utah look at how the state party doesn't supporting their own candidates when they're seen as not conservative enough.