Jim Matheson: No Scott, Not By a Long Shot | Private Eye | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Jim Matheson: No Scott, Not By a Long Shot

We pay for your health insurance, Jim. Pay it back.


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Scott M. Matheson
  • Scott M. Matheson

Soon after Scott M. Matheson was sworn in as Utah’s governor in 1977, I opened my unemployment check and discovered I’d gotten a $5-per-week raise. That was pretty good for a guy who interspersed his scamming of the state unemployment system with serious hours of playing tennis, swimming and watching TV. I watched lots of TV during the waning days of Gov. Calvin Rampton’s administration, too, but he never rewarded my good effort.

I earned my unemployment payments by holding down a series of real jobs, then losing them. I accepted the roughly $90 that Utah was paying me each week and figured it was owed to me, anyway. I can’t remember the logic of that, but that’s what I thought. Being single, and with a tiny bar between my apartment and the complex’s swimming pool, I was living in tall cotton with each and every one of those  unemployment dollars.

The Matheson raise pushed me to around $95 dollars, enough for a splurge. I walked from my Aspen Hills apartment on 900 East to the Iceberg Drive Inn on 3900 South and dove into a chocolate shake. It could have been brain freeze, I don’t know, but I do remember thanking my lucky stars that Scott Matheson was governor. I also felt the first pangs of guilt about being on unemployment. The extra money began to feel like thievery, because I knew I could land a job. I wanted a job, just not strongly enough to give up all those free hours of swimming.

For the short time I toiled for Scott Matheson by working on my tan, I felt less and less comfortable with myself. So I booked it out of town and settled in Wendover. Nevada might not seem like a good place to get your head together, but it was for me. Outside of the commute, it was a pretty good gig—and I thank Matheson Sr. for that, too. If he hadn’t given me that damned guilt-ridden raise, I’d still be sitting on my ass at Aspen Hills.

Matheson died between then and now, but I can still imagine playing another tennis set with my buddy Woody at the Aspen Hills tennis court. We played lots of tennis back then, and I’m pretty sure he, too, was on unemployment part of that time. He earned his pay, though. Prior to us dinking serves and drinking up all that Olympia Beer, Woody was a young Marine from Fillmore, surviving the best he could for the few months he and his fellow Marines were under siege at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1968. Yeah, Woody deserved his $90 and then some.

I later met Scott Matheson at the Utah Capitol where he took questions from a journalism class I was in. I shook his hand and told him how that raise he’d given me drove me all the way to Wendover and then back to the University of Utah. He was only in his late 40s at that time, but he seemed much older. As he responded to what I said with a small chuckle, he looked every bit the old and wizened sage who Utahns remain fond of. Matheson Sr. was a rarity, a non-polarizing politician behind whom both Republicans and Democrats could find common ground. Maybe that’s because he officed during a time less politically divisive on moral or religious issues.

Or maybe, as I believe, he was just a damned good guy who always had Utah’s best interest at heart, and the citizenry appreciated that. Raised in southern Utah, no one could honestly criticize his rural sagebrush roots. Conversely, they couldn’t honestly deny his steady Democratic Party bona fides. He died at age 61 in 1990 of a uniquely Utah circumstance: Matheson was a Downwinder, and it’s not unlikely that his exposure to radiation from nuclear testing in Nevada contributed to the cancer that killed him. If you don’t know a Utah Downwinder, you don’t know Utah.

I have the deepest respect for Scott Matheson for reasons both broad and personal. When his son Jim won his first term to the U.S. Congress, I briefly met Jim’s mother, Norma Matheson, and I told her how I felt about Scott Matheson and that I had equal hopes for son Jim. I’ve never met Jim Matheson. Can’t say I want to, either.

Everything about him feels like I’ve walked back into U of U professor Robert Steensma’s Shakespeare class. Is he Hamlet, the conflicted son living in the shadow of a deceased king? I don’t want to bury him, but I will not praise him. Which father-son defining role does he play, Hal or Falstaff? Just as I am no Shakespeare, Jim Matheson is no Scott Matheson.

Shakespeare suggested we “Listen to many, speak to a few.” Jim Matheson does the exact opposite by listening to a few and speaking for many. His abhorrence for his more liberal Salt Lake County constituency is well-documented. Jim’s vote against the recent health-care plan is one more slap to the face of a constituency he regularly avoids. His father ruled from the middle; Jim follows from the middle. Big difference. And regardless of his stated or perceived party affiliation, he’s a crappy public servant.

Jim Matheson—who counts the healthcare industry among his biggest benefactors—says the vote they paid for him to cast was fiscally responsible. Really? Tell that with a straight face to Utah’s new generation of health-insurance-lacking Downwinders, veterans, mothers, unemployed, uninsurable or just plain unlucky, Jim. Some need that little kick to turn their own lives around. We pay for your health insurance, Jim. Pay it back.

There’s a new Facebook group, Democrats against Congressman Jim Matheson. Count me in.

More reading on Matheson:

Jim Matheson: Yay or Nay?

Blue Dog, Red Fur