Why I choose Jim Matheson
by Emily Bingham Hollingshead
In 2002 when the Utah legislature dramatically changed the boundaries of Utah's 2nd Congressional District, I was a little bit giddy. Jim Matheson was going to be my representative in Washington.
Friends and neighbors who lived in Cedar City were not as excited. They told me that come election time, they were going to make sure that Jim was out. I distinctly remember attending a Labor Day Parade in Parowan that year... Parowan is a small town just north of Cedar City, it is where Jim's dad, our beloved former Governor Scott Matheson, is buried... (I think Jim is related to half of the town.) As Jim walked in the parade, there was yelling and booing and even swearing at the congressman... I remember being shocked, as I had never seen such rude behavior in all of my life. I overheard an older couple as they expressed their disappointment that this "abortion-loving liberal" was their representative... and they were going to do whatever it would take to get him out of office.
They almost succeeded - Jim won re-election with barely 49.43% of the vote. His Republican opponent received 48.69% of the vote. In Iron County, Jim received somewhere around 32%, Washington County was even worse. And the moderate and Republican voters in Southern Utah were mad that he won the race... how could this have happened? What business did a Democrat have representing Southern Utah??
A lot has changed about the 2nd Congressional District - but not the voters. They are as conservative as ever. It is important to note that President Obama only received 29% of the votes in the 2008 election. But, even with Obama on the ticket in 2008 - Jim won re-election with a resounding margin. And for the first time since being given the gigantic 2nd Congressional District, he won Iron County and Washington County with over 50% of the vote. Jim is a phenomenon in Utah, where voters typically choose to vote straight party Republican, because they firmly believe that Republicans will always represent them better. Since the Utah Legislature was aware of this habit, Republican legislators purposely and willfully attempted to get Jim out of office by changing his boundaries to include the much more conservative areas of Utah.
Voters in his district - Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans choose Jim because he has worked hard on behalf of the people who live here. Many voters have told me that they vote for him - not because of any party affiliation - but because of how well he does his job. Everything from economic development projects to keeping nuclear testing out of our western deserts has proven that he does care deeply about the people he represents.
I have not always been happy with Jim's votes, though. Sometimes I think he plays it too safe. He has a lot of political capital and I wish he would cash in on it sometimes. But he doesn't always disappoint, and I can remember many times logging in to check his vote on an issue I was following, and being very happy that he voted as I would have wanted him to. His support of hate crimes legislation immediately comes to mind, he did the right thing and showed leadership with his vote. No other Utah congressman voted yes on that issue.
In 2005 we took our boys to Washington DC and the good representative spent 90 minutes with us in his office, talking to the boys about politics and civic involvement. I will not forget that experience, and neither will they. He is a good, decent man who cares deeply about the area he represents.
Today, delegates in the 2nd Congressional district have a very important choice to make - whether to send Jim Matheson back to Washington, or whether to give it a shot with a newcomer, Progressive Liberal Salt Lake City Democrat Claudia Wright.
I have been told by Wright's supporters that she has a chance to win the 2nd Congressional District, but when I go over the numbers, they just don't add up. When I talk to my conservative friends, neighbors and customers and ask them if they would support a more liberal Democrat in the 2nd CD, they emphatically answer "no." They like Jim because he doesn't always follow a national agenda... as a matter of fact, most of independent voters I know would rather see their representatives following an agenda dictated by the residents of their districts instead of Washington politicians. Many of us involved in party politics forget this detail sometimes.
Don't get me wrong, I like Claudia Wright. I agree with some of her ideas and in some other reality, if I thought the district's voters had changed enough to be open minded about electing a left-wing-lesbian-liberal, you might just find me as being her biggest cheerleader. But I'm also pragmatic and know that even though Jim is not as progressive as some would like him to be, he does pay attention to what the voters want him to do.
Isn't that the whole point of a Representative Government? If the majority of the folks in a district feel strongly about an issue, then the individual elected to serve them should take that message to heart and vote accordingly. If having a representative with a more liberal agenda would actually change the minds of the voters, that would be one thing - but we have a liberal President and people (at least from where I live) are more upset than ever. Senator Bob Bennett is being crucified by his own party because he is not conservative enough for them. I hear daily complaints about the USA turning socialist... you know the arguments. This is not coming from just Tea Party supporters, it is coming from your main stream voter. Having Obama in the white house has not calmed the rhetoric, it has made it worse.
If the progressive Democrats in Utah want to affect real change, throwing Jim Matheson out is the wrong way to do it. Remember, the Republicans tried to do it first by gerrymandering his district, and then by putting him through some really tough elections. By changing the district boundaries, they almost got what they wanted. I can guarantee that if Jim Matheson is not our candidate in November, they will finally have succeeded.
Now, to the delegates who are making this tough decision - there are some of you whom I adore and consider to be my dearest friends in Utah. I understand why you are supporting Claudia and I have no animosity toward you. All I ask is that the same respect be given to those of us who who have made the alternative choice.
In the end - we're all in this together. Our numbers are small and we need each other. And in the current political climate, we need each other more than ever.
Emily Bingham Hollingshead is a political consultant and Democratic Party activist. She is also the Communications Director for the Utah House Democrats and has worked on several winning legislative campaigns. In 2006, she was the Democratic candidate for Senate District 28, a 6 county seat that encompasses much of the 2nd Congressional district. (No, she didn't win and credits the race for giving her broader insight into the minds of Utah voters).
Emily and her husband Mark and their two sons live in Cedar City where they enjoy running, biking, and exploring the gorgeous Southern Utah mountains. She can be found online by visiting http://www.yourwebsitepro.com