The last Republican to run against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is attacking GOP Gov. Gary Herbert for what he says is behind-the-scenes pressure on lawmakers to draw a friendlier U.S. House district for Matheson so he will seek reelection to Congress and stay out of the governor's race against Herbert.
"The Matheson threat is of greater concern to Utah's governor than fairness and due process," said Morgan Philpot, who lost to Matheson last year by a 50.5 to 46.1 percent margin. Philpot says he hopes to challenge Matheson again next year, but also is not ruling out a run for governor.
Herbert "is demanding the ultimate perk from our Legislature," Philpot said in a news release. "And I know we're all mutually offended. ... Neither the power of the veto nor the pressure of the governor's office should be employed to extend one man's political ambition at the expense of fair process."
Philpot said in a Tribune interview that he has "heard from a lot of people" that Herbert is pushing for changes that might convince Matheson to stay in the congressional race. "Honestly, I don't think it's a secret. Pretty much anyone involved in this process knows that the governor has been worried about this."
Allyson Isom, Herbert's spokeswoman, said such inferences are incorrect, and that Herbert simply wants a plan that is fair for all and says he never threatened a veto as some news media reports said. She adds that Philpot never personally met with Herbert to discuss what may have happened or his motives.
Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the House chairman of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee, said on Thursday, Sept. 30 that whether the full Legislature makes changes to the proposed congressional map during a special session next week "depends on the governor," and would not elaborate, saying he would "leave that to the governor's staff to articulate."
Isom said Herbert has expressed opinions on some maps, which may have led some people to assume motives that do not exist. "Someone walks out of the room thinking, 'Well he doesn't support it,' and the next person says he's threatening to veto it. ... The word 'veto' has never left his mouth."
Herbert in his monthly news conference on Thursday, Sept. 30 said simply that he has encouraged legislators to make sure their plan "is a fair and balanced approach that's defensible," and said he also wants an urban-rural mix in districts.
Isom said, "There are a lot of folks meeting with the governor who have their own individual interests at heart, and some are inclined to use the governor as a human shield for their own agendas."
Democrats say the district approved by the committee for Matheson earlier this week is tough for him. While the map keeps his hometown, Democratic Salt Lake City whole, it combines it with such conservative areas as south Davis County and most of southern Utah. After Matheson saw that map, he said he is still considering running for governor or the Senate.
Philpot does not currently live in that redrawn 2nd Congressional District, and is currently renting a home in Orem in what would be the 3rd Congressional District represented by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Philpot said he intentionally took a short-term lease so that he can move into Matheson's 2nd Congressional District wherever its final boundaries may be drawn.
"My focus is and always has been the 2nd District. That's where I would like to run again. That's where most of my friends and grass-roots supporters are," he said, but adds that he "won't rule out" a possible run for governor either.
Of note, four other Republicans who have already announced possible runs for Congress against Matheson also live outside the 2nd District as currently redrawn. They are Cherilyn Eagar, John Willoughby, Chuck Williams and Jason Buck.
Williams said he is considering moving into the district, but the others said they are considering running from outside of the district.
Federal law requires that members of Congress merely live in the state where they are elected, and not necessarily in the district they represent. In fact, Chaffetz, who lives in Alpine, has lived just outside the 3rd Congressional District in Utah that he has represented for two terms.
Legislature to hold special session
P Meeting at 9 a.m. Monday in the Capitol to focus primarily on redistricting.
Rally • A rally by opponents of the current proposed congressional redistricting map is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Monday in the Rotunda.