For the first time since being elected in 2000, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, has been forced into a primary race by Claudia Wright. A wide chasm separates the two when it comes to their political positions. After all, Wright is the “citizen’s candidate,” selected to challenge Matheson by a panel of Democrats frustrated by Matheson’s opposition to health-care reform and gay marriage, especially. Matheson, however, touts his ability to work across the aisle in Congress, his fiscally conservative philosophies, and his ability to win as a Democrat in a Republican-leaning district. The winner of the June 22 primary will go on to the general election to face Republican nominee Morgan Philpot. City Weekly asked both about a defining moment in their lives. Their complete, unedited answers are below.
What’s one event that had a pivotal role in shaping who you are today?
Matheson: I think the moment that defined me was my experience with my family’s history with nuclear weapons. I remember seeing my father sitting in a chair with his yellow legal pad, writing a long list of names. He said, “These are our relatives who died of cancer.” And then I saw him help expose the issue and the fact that the federal government lied, and he got the classified documents declassified that said they knew their were risks, but lied about those risks.
Flash forward to when my father contracted multiple myeloma, which is a radiation-caused form of cancer, and he was in the hospital dying. He was someone who still believed in our system of government, even though that system had done such a horrible thing. He said, “The system is right as long as we hold it accountable.”
That has had a significant impact on me as far as how I approach my job. The government has a lot of responsibility, but it’s important for us to keep an eye and make sure it is fulfilling those responsibilities.
Wright: I would probably pick having a brother who had a terminal illness, and having to deal with all of the health issues, the insurance issues, and the personal issues of caring for somebody you love.
I realized that the person that is so ill is more than an illness. It’s important to be able to see them as a person and love them as a person. It was also important to see how our system of taking care of a person—and our health-insurance system—looks like in real life, as opposed to scenarios on a piece of paper.