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Rep. Jim Matheson visits BYU for civil debate

Published: Saturday, April 3 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Rep. Jim Matheson, at the request of both Democratic and Republican student clubs, speaks at BYU Friday.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

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PROVO — Republicans and Democrats may scream at each other in Washington, but at BYU, the discussion is much more civil.

Friday morning, Congressman Jim Matheson, D-Utah, visited the Provo campus at the bipartisan invitation of the BYU Democrat and BYU Republican student clubs.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will visit BYU Monday afternoon to preserve the political neutrality policy of the campus.

It's been at least four years since a politician was on campus to speak specifically about politics, said the clubs' presidents, Democrat Steve Pierce and Republican Mike Squires.

"Civil engagement and dialogue is a virtue that is all too often forgotten in today's society," said BYU political science professor and department chairman Darren Hawkins. "When the (campus) Republicans and Democrats agreed to co-sponsor these discussions, that was a marvelous example of engaging in these types of discussions. Of course they disagree on a lot of things, but it's important to talk about these disagreements."

Matheson also praised the student clubs for the invitation, and added that the bickering in Washington isn't quite as bad as the media makes it out to be.

It's one of the results of real-time news flow.

"We have access to more information than in the history of mankind," he said, "and yet the information is tending to be less substantive, more opinion and less hard news, and often there's a lot of misinformation out there."

After his brother Scott Matheson Jr., was recently tapped by President Obama to head the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, a right-wing blogger speculated that Obama was trying to buy Jim Matheson's vote on the health care bill, and the comment spread like wildfire.

Everyone who knew him, knew it wasn't true, Matheson said, but that didn't stop news anchors and even a senator from continuing to comment about Obama "buying votes" and then dropping Matheson's name — even though he voted 'no' on the bill.

When Matheson's staff called a news channel to request they clarify their information, he said they didn't even care.

"This is the world we're in now," he told the few dozen students gathered in the Wilkinson Student Center. "When you hear something, take a step back, and a deep breath, and assess what you're hearing. Maybe what you're hearing is true, and maybe it's not."

The first student question was about the health care bill, which Matheson had worked on for more than a year as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Although he believes ending discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions and allowing dependants to stay on their parents' insurance until the age of 26 are good things, he voted no on the bill because he said it didn't propose the reforms he believes the country needs.

Two giant issues to tackle are the problems of medical "over-utilization" and "bloated" administrative costs, he said.

Various studies have shown nearly 30 percent of all medical procedures are not necessary but are done by medical professionals trying to protect themselves from lawsuits and because they're paid for quantity, not quality, Matheson said.

And far too much money is wasted on administrative costs — like the eight different pieces of mail he got after his son's strep-throat test, he said.

But although payment system reform and tort reform are easily identified, they are not easily solved, he said.

"This is a new law, but we still have to deal with this issue," he said. "The debate isn't over."

Sabrina Clifford, a working mother from Orem, said she supported the bill because it was at least "something," then asked Matheson how she could help promote progress.

Matheson said the country needs voices that are constructive, pragmatic and positive, not people who scream from the left or the right.

"Voices with reason are what we need in our system of democracy," he said. "We need people engaged, looking for practical solutions. If we allow extreme elements to dominate the debate, it's more difficult to make progress."

email: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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