Every Legislature, the U.S. House and Senate members from Utah address the House and Senate, praising the legislators and damning Congress.
“If only Congress could be more like you” – that quote could be stuck in a bubble above both Republicans and Democrats who address the two bodies.
Tuesday, Utah’s only Democratic congressman, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, spoke to the Utah House and Senate.
Matheson, of course, has severely criticized GOP legislators for redrawing the state’s new, four House districts in a way that harms his re-election chances.
But Matheson didn’t bring that topic up Tuesday. Speaking from a prepared text (most congressmen wing it off the cuff), Matheson pointed out his successes, and his efforts, in developing energy in Utah.
In fact, Matheson, who has served in the 2nd District, believes he’s been so harmed by the GOP majority that he’s running for the new 4th seat in 2012, not his own.
Matheson lives just west of Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, still in the 2nd District boundaries. But Utah congressmen don’t have to live in their districts, only in the state.
The new 2nd District (you can see all the maps here) takes in Salt Lake City, southern Davis County, and then wraps westward around into southern Utah.
It is a more Republican/conservative district than the old 2nd District, where Matheson barely won re-election in 2002 after the last redistricting.
So, even though he doesn’t live in the new 4th seat, Matheson will run in that new seat.
After his original 2000 election, for two years Matheson represented some of the western Salt Lake County areas that are now in the new 4th District.
By running for the new 4th seat he loses his old base of eastern Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County’s east bench areas.
In his address to the House on Tuesday, if not for only the politic applause from the majority Republicans, if one didn’t know better one may believe Matheson was a Republican, he spoke of such wrongheadedness in federal energy and land management policies coming out of the Obama administration.
Matheson spoke at some length about how he has pushed for energy development in Utah and the western United States.
Just one example: Matheson supports the federal government aiding construction of the Key Stone pipe line, which would run from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, with some interlinks to existing oil and natural gas pipelines along the route.
The pipeline will aid in Utah energy development, said Matheson.
Utah’s energy industry has produced “3 percent employment growth” in the state, he added, saying energy development can bring good jobs and be responsibly managed.
He said he’s pushed for natural gas vehicles, criticized the slow and/or botched permitting by the federal Interior Department.
In fact, Matheson said, he just last week sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar complaining about some of the Obama administration’s land policies.
As reported by UtahPolicy previously, there are a number of conservative state legislators who have been complaining this session not just what Congress is doing, but what some GOP congressman are doing.
Freshman Rep. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, asked Matheson how he could square some of his moderate positions with his support of the defense authorization bill, which at one point allowed the confinement of U.S. citizens believed to be terrorists without review.
Matheson said he did vote for that bill in the House where it originated because that confinement language wasn’t in it. That wording was put in in the Senate, he said.
The bill then went to a conference committee to work out differences between the two bodies.
And after a great deal of complaint, especially on the internet, said Matheson, the offensive language was taken out. He then voted for it again, he said.
Sitting in the Utah House was Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who has already announced he’s running for the 4th District – and may face Matheson this fall.
Not in the House, because he resigned his seat to fundraise during the 45-day session, was former Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, who also is running for the 4th seat this year.
Both men, along with 4th District GOP candidate Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, are already criticizing Matheson and congressional Democrats.
(You can see UPD candidate tracker here as the candidate fields expand.)
Around 90 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing – a modern day low.
Matheson said Congress as an institution is not the problem, but “some” of the people who serve there are the problem.
So many congressmen, especially the leaders of both parties in the bodies, don’t care enough about governing the country, said Matheson, but only about winning the next election.
Matheson said he has had some success in working with Republicans across the aisle, passing bipartisan legislation. But it has become more difficult to do that, he said.
State Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, actually thanked Matheson for some of the work he’s done on freeing up federal lands.
Noel said it takes six years for the BLM to permit some activities, where as it takes only six months for those same activities to be approved by Utah State government on state land.
Why can’t the feds allow state government to permit such activities on federal lands? Noel asked.
Sounds good to Matheson, he said, although he doesn’t know if feds will ever give up such control over federal lands.
Matheson was also asked how Congress can be reformed so it actually works?
Election reform, he said.
While not specifically naming a group of “mainstream” GOP Utahns who are looking to provide an alternative route to the primary ballot for candidates who don’t want to go through the party convention process, Matheson said that too often now elections are decided well before the final ballot.
That’s because in many states, including Utah, the voters don’t have a viable say statewide or in specific districts, because those areas lean heavily either Republican or Democratic.
Thus, the final election is basically set.
Key is who wins those party nominations. “We need more engagement by the public,” said Matheson. “That will lead to more responsive legislative bodies to represent the majority of the people.”
The “shrill” voices are winning the party ballots now, said Matheson – and so are elected to office.
Various studies have shown that in nominating conventions Democrats pick more liberal candidates and Republicans pick more conservative candidates.
Matheson himself was forced into a Democratic primary in 2010 by a liberal challenger. While Matheson easily dispatched her in the Democratic primary, it was a reflection both of the liberalism of the state Democratic Convention and problems the moderate/conservative Matheson was having with the left wing of his party.
U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was forced from office in 2010 by the state GOP convention delegates, who picked two more conservative candidates to advance to the Republican primary ballot.
Get more voters involved in the candidate selection process, and that would be a way to end congressional partisan bickering, said Matheson.