Matheson far enough to the right for Utahns

Centrist Demo agrees often with GOP's Bishop

Published: Friday, Aug. 25 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson does have a "D" by his name in official listings.

But by national standards, Utah's 2nd Congressional District representative is not much of a Democrat.

Matheson even agrees with U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, much of the time. And Bishop is listed by various ranking organizations as one of the most conservative members of the U.S. House.

Bishop sent out a franked mailer in early August, telling his 1st Congressional District constituents some of the good, conservative things the GOP-controlled House has done this year.

At the request of the Deseret Morning News, Matheson's staff took the actions/votes that Bishop was most proud of, listed in his mailing, and compared Matheson's votes on those same measures.

Out of the 15 votes that Bishop bragged about to his constituents, Matheson voted with Bishop and the GOP majority 13 times.

The two issues on which Matheson voted opposite of Bishop were the GAS Act (HR3893) and the Refinery Permit Process Schedule Act (HR5254), said Alyson Heyrend, Matheson's spokeswoman.

Matheson voted against the GOP majority on those two bills, she said, because, despite Republicans' claims to the contrary, the bills would have placed the federal government more in control of the permitting and building of oil refineries, and Matheson is against that.

In a later interview with the Deseret Morning News' editorial board, Bishop said that while Matheson may vote with Republicans 50 percent of the time, "He's still a Democrat ... and wouldn't it be better to have someone (in the Utah) delegation who votes with the Republicans 90 percent of the time?"

The National Journal, in its yearly assessment of how representatives voted on a liberal/conservative range of topics, says that in 2005 Matheson was one of a handful of "centrists" — representatives who voted close to 50-50 on the "liberal" and "conservative" scale.

The newspaper, which reports on Congress, said Matheson voted 54.2 percent of the time as a "liberal" and 45.8 percent of the time as a "conservative."

Only 14 other members of the 435-member House voted closer to a 50-50 split. And only eight Democrats voted more conservatively than did Matheson, the journal said.

Since entering Congress in 2001, Matheson has voted about 50 percent of the time in step with GOP President Bush's positions on legislative issues, reviews by Congressional Quarterly have shown.

"I don't keep score" on whether votes are for or against Republicans or Democrats," said Matheson. "I try to take each issue and vote how to represent my constituents in Utah."

So what do more traditional Democrats think of Matheson?

"Of course I struggle with some of his votes, like the constitutional amendment on (same-sex) marriage," said state Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, one of two openly gay Utah legislators. "But Jim's district is very different from my (Central City) district. I disagree with some of my (legislative) Democrats, but that doesn't mean I want them out of office.

"I'm not giving up on Jim; I hope to get him to come around on some issues," she said.

"There is some tension" between Matheson and liberal elements of his Utah party, said state Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, the other openly gay legislator. "But I would certainly rather have Jim in Congress than someone like LaVar Christensen," Matheson's GOP opponent this year.

Matheson said he does hear from liberals about some of his votes that they don't like. But, then again, he hears from some conservative Republicans on votes they don't like, as well.

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