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About Utah: Race for Congress reveals country's greatness

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9 2012 11:59 p.m. MDT

What a terrific country.

Where else can anyone, from anywhere, grow up to run for the highest offices in the land?

There are virtually no limits, no barriers, no padlocks. This November, for instance, we will be choosing between a candidate whose father, a black man, was born in another country in meager circumstances and another candidate whose father was a beloved American politician who is still revered many years after his death.

And I'm not talking about Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney.

I'm talking about Mia Love versus Jim Matheson.

Is there a better civics lesson in any race for national office in the country than this one?

Is there any better reminder that for all its quirks, for all its debate over immigration and who gets in and who doesn't, for all its hand-wringing over civil rights and health care and Social Security and gay marriage and justice for all, there is no country more adamant about being equal than the United States of America?

Seriously, where else can you have a 37-year-old first generation Utahn with no significant political background walk onto a perfectly level playing field and challenge a 52-year-old sixth-generation Utahn whose family name is synonymous with the state's roots and politics?

No matter who wins, the country has already won.

If only James Madison could see this, or Alexander Hamilton.

Actually, when you think about it, almost 250 years ago Hamilton walked a similar sort of path as Love. He was born in poverty in the Caribbean, on the island of Nevis, and was brought to America by sponsors who helped him get an education and obtain his citizenship. In response, Hamilton wrote most of the Federalist papers that helped draw up the blueprint for the new republic. As the first secretary of the Treasury, he also got his face on the $10 bill.

Mia wasn't born in the Caribbean, but she came close. Her parents, Jean Maxine and Mary, lived on the island of Haiti in the 1970s when they arranged to come to America on work visas. With just $10 between them — a single Hamilton — they made the decision to leave behind their two young children in the care of relatives while they set out in search of economic prosperity. When their third child, a girl they named Ludmya, was born in New York, the immigration laws of the time qualified them to stay in the U.S. permanently and send for their other two children.

By the time Ludmya Bourdeau finished her schooling with a degree from the University of Hartford, she was known as Mia.

She fell in love with a Utahn, Jason Love, they got married, settled down in Saratoga Springs, had three kids, she got elected mayor — and now she's running for the United States Congress. If she's elected, she'll be the first black female Republican in Congress.

But it won't be easy. In the opposite corner is James David "Jim" Matheson, Utah's answer to Secretariat.

Matheson is unbeaten in six straight races for Congress. That's impressive, but what makes it way more impressive is that he's a Democrat in a Republican state. Perennially running in one of the country's reddest neighborhoods, he has collected 896,939 votes in his six wins alongside 665,459 for his challengers. It's akin to a wildebeest traversing the Serengeti and not only surviving but getting fatter.

Matheson's stature is only enhanced by his family name. A century and a half ago, his forefathers helped settle southern Utah; more recently, his late father, Scott M. Matheson, was a wildly popular two-term Utah governor, beginning in 1977 when Jim was a teenager. The future congressman's upbringing was strictly all-American: played on the football team at East High, went to Harvard, did graduate work at UCLA, eventually followed his father's footsteps into politics.

On paper, Matheson appears unbeatable — the latest polls give him a 15-point lead over Love — but that's not the story today.

The story today is that Jim Matheson and Mia Love, with backgrounds so disparate they might as well come from different solar systems, are in the same race, together, in the same state, chasing the same seat.

What a terrific country.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

email: lbenson@desnews.com

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