SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, who's facing his first primary challenge, is slamming the two GOP Senate candidates for supporting nuclear weapons testing.
Matheson is holding a press conference Monday with representatives of the cancer victims downwind of the nuclear tests done in Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s to denounce the stand taken by Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee.
Both Bridgewater and Lee have signed onto a national "Peace Through Strength" platform that backs "a safe, reliable effective nuclear deterrent, which requires its modernization and testing" to defend the country.
Matheson, though, said the nuclear testing done until 1992 has left a tragic legacy for Utahns, "one of lies and betrayal, illness and death." His own father, the late Gov. Scott Matheson, died of cancer believed to be the result of exposure to radioactive fallout from the tests.
"By standing united against the unsafe, unnecessary policy of nuclear testing, Utahns have won some important battles. We're ready for this new fight," Matheson said in a statement.
His spokeswoman, Alyson Heyrend, said Utahns back her boss. The congressman "has been consistently, long term, the champion on behalf of protecting Utahns from the resumption of nuclear weapons testing," she said. "This does highlight Matheson's effectiveness."
And that can only help his bid for a sixth term as the representative from Utah's 2nd Congressional District. For the first time, Matheson has a primary race, against progressive Democrat Claudia Wright, on June 22.
Wright's followers are upset with Matheson over his voting against health care reform and other key Democratic issues. His stand against nuclear testing, however, is considered a highlight of his time in office evidenced by his emphasizing of it to Democratic convention delegates earlier this month.
Wright said she, too, opposes nuclear testing. "The state of Utah has paid for the development of those weapons with the deaths of our citizens from cancer," she said. "This is one of those areas where we completely agree."
The Democratic Senate candidate, Sam Granato, also is against nuclear testing. "I just don't view it as a party issue. I view it as a common sense issue," he said. "All of us want to have a strong military presence, but we don't need to detonate bombs to show who we are."
Bridgewater and Lee ended Sen. Bob Bennett's re-election bid earlier this month at the state Republican convention in a hotly contested race. The GOP nominee will be decided in a June 22 primary.
The GOP pair attempted to qualify their support of the issue, suggesting there may not be a need for more detonations to test weapons.
"My personal opinion is that there are a lot of options to detonation testing including analyzing data from previous tests and using advanced computer models," Bridgewater said. "We should exhaust all of those areas first and foremost."
Lee said such testing should be looked at "on the basis of need and a showing as to its safety, but as of right now, there isn't any such need."
Both Bridgewater and Lee lost their fathers to cancer attributed to having been downwind of the testing done at the Nevada Test Site.
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