Tuesday, May 04, 2010

My choice for 2nd Congressional District

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.

It backfired.

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


Julianne said...

Your representation of Jim Matheson is totally skewed. He does not represent the values of the Democratic Party nor his constituents. He refuses to do Town Hall meetings at this point, and only meets with those who agree with him. He's become a Very Polished Politician, which is extremely Unreliable and disingenuous.

I'm not sure what wizard you are discussing this election with, but when you claim that you Guarantee that Claudia Wright cannot win, you are really claiming an otherworldly source of information. Unless, of course, you know something the rest of the Grassroots don't know ala National presidential election in 2000 & 2004. I completely disagree with you and admit that you have the right to believe what you want. I'm working to prove you wrong. Sincerely, Julianne

Dorothy said...

It is interesting that whenever I try to call Mr. Matheson, his voice mail is full and I can never get through. This was especially frustrating when attempting to communicate with him during the Health Care debate. He may be available to those with large pockets, but as an individual voter it has been very difficult to communicate with him directly.

Annette said...


I absolutely agree that we need each other, in Utah as well as nationally. And I absolutely do respect your choice to support Matheson. However, I am compelled to point out that, as a Wright supporter, I would also use the word "pragmatic." I am not going to vote for someone who carries a D beside his name if his positions and his votes are not in line with the Democratic party platform, or the hard work of his national party members, more than 42% of the time (on key issues--including, speaking of abortion, the Stupak Amendment).

I haven't heard a _single_ Democrat argue with Wright's positions on any of the issues. The _only_ critique she gets is about whether she's electable. As a pragmatist, my goal is legislation that moves forward on those issues--for Utahns and all Americans.

Also, although I am really delighted that Matheson gave your sons 90 minutes of his time, most of us haven't been able to get him to return a call or even hold a town-hall meeting. Wright has been extremely accessible throughout this campaign, and she shoots straight about her views and positions.

I really do respect the difficulty of this decision for you and I appreciate your thoughtful and inclusive article. Needed to speak my response...

In solidarity,
Annette Ephroni

Emily said...


Pay attention to what I am saying. Jim represents the people who live in his district - they are overwhelmingly conservative voters.

Here is a good blog post by Curtis Haring that breaks down the numbers and what those of us who work in politics and campaigns know about Utah:


I understand the need and desire to have more progressive representation, but until our district *changes* the way it views the world, politicians, and Washington DC, Jim is the only kind of Democrat (whether you agree with that label or not) who has a chance of being elected. I can't say it more plainly than that.

Please please please please note that I am not talking about whether or not Claudia has good ideas. I know that she has a strong team and plans to work hard. But please understand that the vast majority of voters in the 2nd congressional district are not looking for more liberal or progressive representation. If they were, you'd see a more liberal and progressive Jim Matheson.

Emily said...

Definition of pragmatic: advocating behaviour that is dictated more by practical consequences than by theory or dogma.

If Jim is not pragmatic, then who is? He is not driven to serve the democratic party platform, he is driven to serve his voters, his behavior is "dictated more by practical consequences than by theory or dogma."

If you are trying to convince me that the reality is that the 2nd congressional district is full of progressive voters, then I want to know where you're finding them. That has not panned out in the last 4-5 election cycles, and in a year like this one, where there is so much angst about the "liberal agenda" of Washington, I just don't see it happening.

Gail T. said...

They do not seem to want to hear that Jim DOES represent his district, Emily. I consider myself a progressive, quite liberal Democrat. However, this group of voters is NOT the majority in his district. Because his district was gerrymandered. And, hopefully, that will change when districts are redrawn, so a candidate like Claudia has a good chance. Then I will work hard for that kind of candidate.

Emily said...

Gail, that's right.

We don't have to like it, but it is the reality.

Annette said...

If Matheson does represent his district, that's fine. I say let's have a primary and see what voters across the state say. I, however, am voting for an individual who represents the platform of the Utah and national Democratic Party, not for an assumption about what other individuals across the state may or may not accept.

Emily said...

Annette - it's not an assumption. The mere fact that Obama only received 29 percent of the vote in the district is a clear indicator of where the voters are.

A primary is a good idea. I would welcome that.

Emily said...

I think what we we need is to create a better district for Salt Lake City Democrats. The real problem is the gerrymandered boundaries that include alllllll the conservative with the very progressive areas of SLC.

Annette said...

Yes, I totally agree that the gerrymandered districting is part of what leaves many progressives feeling they cannot have a voice in this state. We _absolutely_ need fair boundaries.

It's also true that there are many voters throughout the state, in SLC and beyond, who feel that the problem isn't "left" or "right" but a political process that has become owned by corporate interests and lobbyists. Fair boundaries won't change that, or make those individuals feel represented. A truly grass roots representative, on the other hand, stands a chance with those voters.

Utah had only 36% voter turnout in the last midterm election--less than any other state. That speaks of an awful lot of folks who aren't speaking up, or who don't feel it's worthwhile to do so....

Truly, I think this is an important conversation. Thank you for the forum.

Emily said...

I don't think voter's feel they need to show up, because republicans always win, most Utah voters believe that republicans are *always* right, and so why worry about it? If a voter doesn't become actively engaged in a candidate's values, beliefs, platform and campaign - then why worry about it? It's tough... we run some great Democrats in this state, but because of voter attitudes they are marginalized and ignored.