If, as many Utahns say, Washington is broken because too few politicians will steer a middle course between the extremes of the two parties, then Jim Matheson should be just the candidate that voters are looking for. That, in fact, is one reason why he has earned this newspaper's endorsement.
Since he was first elected six terms ago, Matheson has styled himself a fiscal conservative, a blue dog Democrat. He says that the country cannot continue down its current deficit track, but he also observes that discretionary spending has been cut and government employment is down. Nondiscretionary spending, and especially health care entitlements, are the real budget busters, he says. He's right.
His strongest talking point as a progressive is public lands and the environment. He worked with former Sen. Bob Bennett to enact the Washington County Lands Bill, and he is sponsor of a new wilderness bill to protect vital watershed in the Wasatch. He guided legislation to block the importation of foreign nuclear wastes, a bill critical to Utah, but he also supports an all-of-the-above national energy portfolio.
Mia Love, his opponent, is a rising Republican star. She is an attractive, articulate candidate who gained national exposure at the Republican National Convention.
But her unequivocal, simplistic embrace of the fiscal fantasy of the Ryan budget plan is cause for concern. She even goes so far as to say that the major Wall Street banks should have been allowed to fail during the financial crisis, because without a safety net, bankers would behave differently. That's a valid theoretical point, but not one that should be tested if the country again were to face a financial collapse.
Given the choice between two competing visions of fiscal discipline, Matheson's makes more sense.