Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making "Matheson Angst" Productive (Avoiding the Tea Bagger Trap)

It's exciting to hear a little energy in the voices behind the primary Matheson talk. I love primary challenges. And no one is as disappointed in Jim's health care vote, and small minded strategy since the '08 election. But I have another idea for all those experiencing a little conserva-Dem angst:

Forget Jim.

Let me explain.

Matheson's future is pretty obvious. By 2013, one way or another, there will be no more "Congressman" Matheson. Maybe that will happen due to "Senator" Matheson, or "Governor" Matheson, or "Guy Who Got Less Votes in All Three" Matheson. And on the national level, Democrats don't need him. He may regret trying to fight an agenda he's going to own either way in 2010 when the base can't get out for him, but that is his problem, not ours.

To recap my thoughts so far: Primary talk for one vote (health care) is tea bagger territory, and we shouldn't go there (spend a little time on the #tcot #utgop hashtags on Twitter if you need convincing). Primary talk for a voting "trend" is more reasonable. A Democrat campaigning on Fox News in opposition to key party votes, definitely justifies primary talk.

But then there is reality. Take a look at this (unfortunately worded) quote from State Party Chairman Wayne Holland in today's City Weekly:

Utah Democratic Party chairman Wayne Holland chastised Matheson's critics as creatures of the Internet who do not understand the district well-enough to offer sound strategy. Supporting a more liberal challenger for Matheson “sounds nice at 2 o'clock in the morning, but it doesn't play out in reality. .... [Matheson] wins by high 50s or low 60s in a district that is in the top 12 most conservative districts in the county. To not have a moderate in that seat would be suicide for the Democratic Party.”
Wayne is right. And no matter how angry we are with Matheson's votes (and I would argue strategy, as it still seems short-sighted to me for him to oppose an agenda he's going to own anyway... why not at least energize your base if you're going to take a hit one way or another?) we have to admit that yes, a primary challenge in 2010 would cost Utah Democrats the seat.

But there are two other messages in Holland's quote that -- for me -- illuminates something much more important than Jim Matheson to Utah Democrats. The idea that the loss of Matheson, for whatever reason, would be "suicide" for the Democratic Party (assuming Holland means the Utah Democratic Party), and the idea that disagreement with Matheson -- either from an ideological, or from a political strategist's point of view -- is propelled solely by "creatures of the internet," and the implied attitude toward these same "creatures of the internet."

That is what those frustrated with Matheson's vote should be working to change. If those fed up with the direction Matheson takes himself have enough energy, time, money, and (most importantly) candidates to run primary challenges against Matheson, or other down ticket "conserva-dems" we disagree with ideologically, why not write District 2 off until 2012, and focus that energy on District 1 (which is not that different from District 2, if ballots cast can be any indicator). Run your challenger there, and just wait Jim Matheson (and redistricting) out, rather than toss the seat like the tea-baggers in NY-23 did.

If we didn't just pop out of the woodwork every time Jim Matheson casts a Republican vote -- even if that is increasing in frequency since November 2008 -- but instead pointed these disagreements toward working inside the state party to increase our influence, we could gain much more. Within a few years, we will have our "better" Democrat. And as much as we have to accept our own realities, the party will have to also accept a future without Jim. That's where our real opportunities lie.

So forget Jim.

Those who want to take Matheson on directly should pause for a minute. What if, instead, we took this energy and put it toward reminding Mr. Holland that we "Creatures of the Internet" are volunteering and staffing county party efforts many times over, and in many counties even serving as county party officers. And also making that increasingly the case. Influencing the party from within through involvement will do more for Democrats in Utah, and the future of Democrats in our federal delegation than a 2010 challenge for Matheson ever could. Stop pretending a blog or a Twitter account is enough.

So forget Jim. His future is predictable and if he can't get the base out for him in 2010, that's a political choice he's made (I think he'll be okay, one more go round). What isn't set in stone is the future of the state party, and the "machine" that fosters the candidates who will replace people like Matheson in coming years.

That's where we "Creatures of the Internet" can have real influence, and avoid the trap that the Tea-Baggers have fallen into.

More on this later.


  1. And Matheson would cruise to 60+ victory every two years if he could because he will not use any political capital on the issues important to the people of his district. He is lazy and isn't a leader and he needs to find a new job. Anyone with two brains cells to rub together knows that a moderate will be the only Democrat to hold this district. As usual Wayne can only setup a strawman. But we should at least have a representative that is willing to show some leadership which I haven't really seen Matheson do. He takes the safe position on EVERYTHING, he doesn't try to move the ball, he does nothing, he is lazy. If that makes me a teabagger then so be it.

  2. None of your business11/19/2009 11:57 AM

    Where are we creatures staffing anything?

  3. "Anonymous," if you're not seeing it, it's probably because you aren't out there doing it.

    And Marshall, you're too smart to be a Tea Bagger. I'm just arguing for a bigger picture approach. There is more than one way to reduce Matheson's influence and spotlight, or push him left, if that's the goal. An alternative would be to elect another Democrat in another district, which would not only have the same effect on Matheson as a liberal primary challenger, but would also free up the state party.

  4. Jim and Wayne both know that FUNDING base of the current Utah Democratic Party lies in the old traditional core Utah Democratic constituencies, mainly labor unions and 1960s-era social activists. We saw that on clear display this year at the organizing convention, when the "Obama Democrats" were shut out of leadership positions, and the old guard was warmly supported by the handful of mostly older delegates who bothered to show up.

    If Democrats don't do more work to expand the base of the party in Utah, particularly in the younger demographics, we'll continue to see increasing irrelevance of the Democrats beyond the county level. Dismissing the "Creatures of the Internet" shows exactly how out of touch, the current party leader is.

    The redistricting, and the new Congressional seat we will get after the 2010 census, should open up opportunities for a few sensible Democrats in 2012. The party needs to get to work between now and then and recruit a few of those people.

  5. It only makes sense to label someone a democrat if they support a democratic platform and philosophy. Matheson votes with this democratic platform or policy about 10% of the time.

    He uses supporting environmental issues to make his claim on democrats. Except in cap and trade "The Carbon County Coal Miners".
    At least Bennett is trying to find them jobs at a new Green River Nuclear Plant.

    The rest of the time he joins those Blue dogs saying "No" to everything Obama, claiming fiscal conservatism. How come he wasn't a fiscal conservative when he voted 90% in favor of Bush's policies that ran up the largest deficit in history.

    I can't understand how democrats in this district allow this Matheson "machine" to highjack our votes to oppose Obama's policies.

    I am sure the majoity of Mr Mathesons supporters and constituents voted for Obama. .......Where then does Mr. Matheson get the audacity to claim he is voting with his constituency or those who put him in office when he opposes Mr Obama's proposals. I have to admire how Hatch and Bennett have used Matheson to control and change my vote. He needs a strong Primary opponent and we need to vote Mathesons voting record.


  6. Lee,

    I hear you, man, but in all fairness, Matheson votes with the Democratic Party far more than 10% of the time.

    Probably closer to 80%, last I looked.

    He could be a better Democrat? Yeah. He has unspent political capital he could spend to support something as important as HCR? You bet. It's infuriating.

    But I still say if activists have the energy to find a candidate and back him/her, do it in UT-1, which is little different than UT-2, politically. Another Democrat in the state would be just as effective at pushing Matheson "right," and it would be a huge boon to the State Party overall.