The Saga of Jim Matheson

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Anybody who attended the Utah Democratic Party’s caucuses this week is well aware of the anger that currently exists towards Jim Matheson, Democratic representative for Utah’s 2nd congressional district. He is the only Democrat representing Utah in Washington D.C., which is precisely why he has evoked this anger.

The primary reason for the fury is that many Democrats feel betrayed by Matheson, arguing that he ignores his base and votes like a Republican on many key issues. Most recently, he voted no on President Obama’s monumental health care reform bill. It was a close vote and represented, for many, a core principle the Democratic Party has been working to accomplish for decades. Needless to say, it was a controversial vote being that the bill passed by a slim margin of 219 to 212.

During the 2008 election campaign, Democrats repeatedly accused Republican nominee John McCain of being just like George W. Bush. There were bumper stickers reading “McCain: Bush’s Third Term.” What was their reasoning for this? “McCain voted with bush 95% of the time.” So yes, McCain sided with Bush and the Republicans the vast majority of the time.

Some Democrats now accuse Matheson of voting just like a Republican as well, but that might not necessarily be true. According to The Washington Post, Matheson has voted with the current Democrat-controlled Congress 92.1 percent of the time. Does that mean McCain is not really that conservative and that he wasn’t a Bush “Yes Man?” Or does it mean that Matheson really does have Democratic principles?

Matheson has had another conspiratorial controversy surrounding him lately, this one coming from the conservative side of the aisle. The rumor — which was started by The Weekly Standard, a conservative rally cry magazine — alleged that President Obama nominated Rep. Matheson’s brother, Scott, to a federal circuit court judgeship in order to persuade the congressman to vote yes on the health care bill the second time around. Of course, the rumor made its way through the ranks — all the conspiracy-savvy conservatives (including the Republican National Committee) were making sure their base knew what was going on here. Tea baggers loved it. It fed right into their theory that the Obama White House is forcing tyranny on the American people.

More level-headed conservatives understood that was not the case. Both Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jason Chaffetz praised the nomination, saying they knew Jim’s brother would fill the vacancy on the court well beforehand. Paul Cassell, a former federal judge and colleague of Scott Matheson, was familiar with the nomination process and was quick to put an end to the theory, explaining the nominating process includes a few months of background inspection. The nomination would have been in the works well before the impassioned health care vote.

Even after all this, the Deseret News reported that Rep. Matheson’s approval rating is currently higher than ever at 64 percent, even higher than that of Orrin Hatch, Rob Bishop, Bob Bennett, and Utah’s wonder boy Jason Chaffetz (all Republicans).

Admittedly, I am not happy with some of Matheson’s votes, specifically his “No” vote on the health care bill. But what are the alternatives? Matheson’s winning percentage has consistently gone up nearly every time he has run for Congress. If Democrats really want Matheson out and another, more liberal Democrat in, the better option would be to wait until 2012 when Utah is expected to gain another House seat due to population increase.

This could very well result in a more liberal-leaning district than the one Matheson currently represents, since much of Utah’s population growth is based in Salt Lake County and gerrymandering will be severely limited since there is an independent commission in charge of the redistricting project. Maybe Utah could even end up with two Democrats in Washington depending on how the districts are drawn.

In the end, whether you support Matheson or not, we should take a step back from emotion-driven politics and at least get the record straight on the congressman. He deserves that much.


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