Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, admits that the last time he received a "C" in school, he wasn't very happy. But when Money magazine recently gave him one, he was ecstatic.
That's because his "C" was better than grades given the rest of the Utah congressional delegation (except retiring Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, who also got a C). The others received "D's."That gave Owens ammunition in seeking votes among the many pro-business Republicans in his district. He made sure Utah reporters received a copy of the Money ratings, just in case they might want to write stories of their own about it.
It's just one example of how House candidates in Utah during the past week have started playing the "ratings game," issuing numerous press releases attacking each other with ratings from a variety of congressional watchdog groups.
The most active in that game have been Democrat Kenley Brunsdale and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, in the 1st District.
Brunsdale attacked Hansen earlier this week for receiving the second-worst score in Congress from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which said Hansen has voted "correctly" only 10 percent of the time on Social Security in his years in the House.
"Jim's record is hurting our senior citizens," Brunsdale said after faxing out copies of the report card. "He has one of the worst voting records for senior citizens, education, the environment and tax fairness. We can't afford Jim anymore."
He added, "It is clear why folks are angry at incumbents. Congress is getting a $30,000 pay raise at the same time they are raiding our retirement funds."
Hansen responded that the group that provided the rating is "known to use . . . fear tactics to elicit contributions from unsuspecting senior citizens; a group that is presently under congressional scrutiny for its fund-raising methods.
"I'm glad this group thinks so little of me. I would be embarrassed if I were held in high regard by any group that exists solely to enrich itself on the fears and concerns of others."
Hansen's campaign shortly thereafter issued another release showing high ratings given him by other groups, and trying to tie their low ratings of Owens to Brunsdale - who was Owens' top aide for a year.
"Brunsdale can't take credit for formulating Owens' bills, yet distance himself from his former boss when it's politically expedient," said Hansen's campaign manager, Peter Jenks.
The release noted that Hansen received perfect 100 percent scores from the American Conservative Union (Owens had an 11 percent), Christian Voice (Owens had an 8 percent), the National Security Index (Owens had a 20 percent) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Owens had a 30 percent).
It also noted how Hansen was proud of his zero ranking from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, which gave Owens a 70.
Jenks claimed, "Because (Brunsdale) served as chief legislative and political adviser to Owens during 1989, his record is in essence the record of Wayne Owens in 1989."