Congressman Jim Matheson, a Democrat who has represented Carbon County in Congress since 2002, announced on Thursday that he will run for the new Fourth Congressional District seat. With that he abandoned all the speculation whether he would run for the Second or Third District, for Governor, or for Orin Hatch's Senate seat.
"I am excited to announce I will be running for re-election in the Fourth Congressional District," he said in a statement. "The political boundaries of the district may be arbitrary, but the people, the communities and their priorities are real and well-known to me. I have been honored to have the opportunity to work for communities such as Millcreek, Murray and Lehi and I am as energized to continue our dialogue as I am to renew conversations in places such as Riverton, Kearns and West Jordan that I represented early in my career. The Wasatch Front, where I have lived my entire life, is a vibrant and growing area of our state, where families, neighborhoods and communities make Utah such a wonderful place to live, work and play."
After the announcement he was almost immediately criticized by impending Republican opponents who have announced for the same seat as being a "carpetbagger" because he would be representing a district in which he does not live. Under Utah law, all a person that runs for a congressional district in Utah needs to do is be a Utah resident, not live within the boundaries of that congressional district.
These criticisms came despite the fact that Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, has lived outside the boundaries of the Third Congressional District for years. If re-elected, Chaffetz will also represent Carbon County after the next election.
Matheson's announcement comes in connection with the realigned boundaries that the state legislature set for the districts. There was much rancor about the decisions made on those boundaries, with the new fourth seat becoming an almost totally urban Wasatch Front district.
In past elections in the Second District, Matheson's strength in two places put him over the top. He had a lot of strength from the electorate of east bench of the Salt Lake Valley and from Carbon County. He and his staff apparently saw the way the boundaries have been changed (much of his strength in the Second District was lost as it was shifted west) and the Third District will be dominated by more conservative areas of the state. Running against Chaffetz in those areas would obviously be problematic.
"Most of us watched with disgust the political games played during the redistricting process," said Matheson's statement. "When the Utah legislature completed its work, the congressional district I have had the privilege of representing no longer exists, and its citizens are spread among all four new districts. But lines on a map never defined my approach to this job. From the beginning, it has been my priority to be an independent voice who puts Utah first."
When Matheson first ran for congress in 2000, most of his district consisted of Salt Lake County, which tends to vote more Democratic than the rest of the state. The next year the state legislature changed the boundaries bringing in mostly rural counties into his district, and only keeping a band of eastern Salt Lake county in his district.
Despite that he had won time and time again, although in the last election his opponent, Morgan Philpot, came closer to beating him than any other opponent had in a decade.
Few in Carbon County thought Matheson would decide to run in the Third Congressional District which, if he won, would still have him representing the county.
In recent months Chaffetz has been holding some public meetings in eastern Utah to get to know the area. Many saw this as a move toward him running against Senator Orin Hatch for the Senate, but now those meetings might serve Chaffetz well in that he will be running for Congress in the same area.
Matheson's present term representing Carbon County will end with the close of 2012.