Monday, April 12, 2010

Claudia Wright Speaks for Me (And That's Why She Would Lose in UT-2)

Primary challenges are always good.  I just want to get that out first before I offer up my thoughts on the Claudia Wright.  Primary challenges keep incumbents on their toes, and create -- if nothing else -- a discussion inside a party that often won't happen otherwise. But that is for a serious primary challenge. A token primary challenge gets us nowhere.

We don't endorse here, because... well honestly, who cares who we endorse?  And my opinion here won't mean much to many outside of those who've read here for the past five years, or know me personally.  I have been a consistent Matheson critic many times over.  And this weekend I did finally get a chance to read through all the content at Claudia Wright's campaign page, and I loved every single word of it.  From her position on health care, to her environmental policy, this is a candidate I could get behind 100%.

And that is exactly why Claudia Wright as a candidate in Utah this cycle would result in Congressman Morgan Philpot (R-Mars).

Idealists will call me a cynic, but I'm not.  I have and will always believe anything is possible in politics, if you get the necessary support.  But "possible" does not equal "good idea."  I'm just realistic. If you want to primary Matheson, take it seriously. Running someone this far left will only push Matheson further right. It's self defeating, and I can't take it seriously. A primary challenge isn't something to take lightly, and with Wright as a candidate now -- as opposed to two years from now -- I can't help but think those behind the primary challenge aren't taking this seriously enough themselves.

Do I think Jim had the political capital to vote for the health care bill and still keep his seat?  Yes.  Do I find it irritating when Matheson not only votes against the bill (House version), but also spends the following weekend campaigning against it on Fox News for any self respecting Democrat?  Yes.  Was it infuriating when he not only cast his final "no" against reform, then put out a press release using the exact (and oft debunked) talking points of the Party of No?  Absolutely.  Was it relevant when JMBell posted this (and hilarious when he posted this)? Without a doubt.

But I think Jim knows his district, and that press release will be forgotten in a month.  You know what won't go away in one month?  Congressman Morgan Philpot.  A Congressman Morgan Philpot would be around for at least two years, teabaggin' the hell out of every bill this administration pushes for.  Check out what Philpot defines as "common sense economics," if you need more.  Matheson scores only 70 or 80% on most Democratic Party "loyalty" vote checks, any given year.  You know what a Congressman Morgan Philpot would score?  A negative so far right it would would be the voting equivalent of anti-matter.  I'm not advocating never taking a risk.  Not doing so has been the biggest boon to Democrats winning elections in Utah for far too long.  But you also have to keep a grip on political realities.  Losing elections while patting yourself on the back for ideological purity is for Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.  We have to play smarter pool.

This isn't to say we should settle (and yeah, I think Jim's gotten away with it for a little too long... time to spend some of that capital, take a risk now and then for the good of country, etc).  And in no way am I advocating never criticizing publicly our Only Democrat.  But if we don't realize political realities of elections and remember that those elections have consequences (think of the lunacy you'd hear from Chaffetz in 2011 if the GOP "reclaims" all of Utah's federal delegates?) and if we don't keep in mind that just being "right" (which I believe Claudia is) doesn't guarantee "getting things done," then we point ourselves in the same direction of the to-date ineffectual Congressional Progressive Caucus, or worse, the realm of the tea-baggers (not the racist part, obviously, just the "we're a majority!" tripe they've convinced themselves of by screaming louder than Chris Matthews).

Matheson deserves the criticism.  And he even deserves the primary challenge. But I only got as far as "single payer" on Wright's website (loving everything that I read!) before realizing there isn't a chance in hell District 2 would elect her.  It's unfortunate, but I believe it's a reality those backing Wright haven't considered. If you're going to do this, you need to do this to win, not send a message.

So as an alternative for those of us that are frustrated with Matheson, and believe he could tack a bit more left than he has so far on key items from this administration and still keep a Democrat in that seat, here's a thought: There are two other ways to push him left, and keep a Democrat in UT-2.

1. Get Bishop and Chaffetz to go more left themselves, giving Matheson some breathing room.

This will happen about the same time Hell freezes over, or Chaffetz tweets something intelligent, or I read anything written by Jonah Goldberg.

2.  Elect another Democrat to a federal office in Utah.

This is a long shot, especially this year.  But there are candidates to get behind, and anything is possible, right?

So Claudia, I love what you stand for.  If I were a delegate, supporting you would be an honor from an altruistic point of view.  But I wouldn't, because I am realistic.  And considering what I've heard from Morgan Philpot so far, I don't think I could stomach him on CSPAN for the next two years.  District 2 isn't ready for Wright.  It might be one day (I hope) but it isn't today.  Matheson deserves credit for recognizing that, and criticism for not doing more to change that.  But regardless, it will remain the case at least for the 2010 cycle.

Nationally, progressives have spent enough time standing on principle alone while losing elections and failing to influence policy even when elected.  It's time to recognize the political realities and spend less time sitting back with our noses in the air being "right," and more time playing the game (distasteful as it might seem) in order to actually influence the political realities, and make a representative like Wright a viable possibility one day, rather than a just an idealistic notion.  The best way to change the game is from the inside.  But you've got to get inside first.

If Claudia loses the nomination, I'd hope every one of her supporters will jump in behind another Democratic candidate for federal office.  Morgan Bowen, Granato or Stout.  Even working with Matheson himself to change the political climate of UT-2, if he by chance invites such a thing.  If the goal is to push Jim, and therefore the state, left, there are many ways to do it and many of us that share that goal.  Giving up a very popular Congressman isn't the best way to go about it.

After the convention, we should all talk.


  1. Well put. We shouldn't be afraid to challenge the status quo but we also must remain realistic about what could be more damaging than progressive. I've known Claudia for a long time and she would be a great representative but Utah is not ready for her and the general election would be a massacre with a single payer supporter on the Democratic ticket in District 2. I think sometimes we Salt Lake Democrats forget about the rest of the district which is exactly what the tea party crowd is doing to Bennett from the far right.

  2. Partisan considerations aside, what difference would it make in terms of public policy if UT-02 elected a Republican?

  3. Not much from the policy POV, but the loss this year would feed the tea baggers, and if it went to an actual primary, the votes Wright would take from Matheson would send Matheson further right to make up for that loss. A primary challenge could be used to push Matheson left, but a "single payer" supporter (though I am one myself) as a candidate will have the opposite effect.

  4. Take a deeper look than the simplistic, left/right political spectrum presented by the mainstream media. The teabaggers are just slightly less upset at the Republican party as compared to the Dems. But the real outrage is at politics as usual or "Washington politics." If the Repubs run a career politician like Philpot and the Dems run a high school history teacher like Claudia, she is the anti-Washington candidate, and just might surprise us. Besides, Philpot would have no power in a Democratic congress, whereas Matheson uses his significant influence to first weaken the bills that he then votes against.