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Matheson opens S. Utah office

ST. GEORGE — He'll turn 43 later this month, and he's already going gray. Maybe it's the late night flights from Washington, D.C., to Utah and back — all within 24 hours— that are giving Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, that salt-and-pepper look.

It could be the result of narrowly squeaking past challenger John Swallow to retain his seat as Utah's 2nd Congressional District representative.

Perhaps it's the stress of trying to get to know all those thousands of new constituents in his vastly expanded district.

Whatever the reason, Matheson seems to relish every white strand he's got.

"I think it's kind of distinguished looking," Matheson said, with a huge smile. "In my first job after college, another young guy and I were called the 'whiz kids' by the older guys in the office. We used to joke that we needed some reverse Grecian formula so we could put some gray in our hair and get some respect."

Matheson doesn't worry these days about his hair or whether he ought to wear a tie (there's a couple hanging in the closet, just in case).

Take last Friday, for example, as a casually dressed Matheson hosted a midday open house at his new field office behind Red Cliffs Mall in St. George.

Mike Empey, Matheson's newly hired field representative for southwestern Utah, hurried to make sure the office was ready for visitors as his boss settled in for an interview. Empey's assignment includes being available for those living in Washington, Iron, Kane, Garfield, Piute and Wayne counties, said Matheson.

"Mike is going to be my eyes and ears in southern Utah," said Matheson as Empey turned to meet a guest. "He's going to listen to what's on people's minds. We are big on reaching out. People will learn we're really aggressive about that."

Some of the big issues facing southern Utah are completion of a new St. George airport, construction of a larger Cedar City airport terminal, water development, building a pipeline from Lake Powell to Washington County, public land issues and grazing allotments, among others.

"We want to reach out to the different segments and listen to what's on people's minds," he said.

And Matheson is hearing a lot.

"These are very anxious times. You should see (Washington) D.C. right now with all the security. It's weird," he said. "But I do not think we're as prepared as we should be. We delayed for 16 months even passing a homeland security finance bill."

The number one issue facing Congress, said Matheson, is the nation's security.

"After that it's fiscal discipline and economic growth," he said. "Part of why the economy is in the doldrums right now is because of our insecurity."

Matheson continues to hope for a peaceful solution in terms of disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

"The world community has not come together as I would like it to if military action takes place," he said. "I do not think war is inevitable — yet. I really don't. Although I think it's likely."


E-mail: nperkins@infowest.com