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GOP rips Matheson for aiding a GOP bill

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The state GOP blames national party for putting together this flier.

The state GOP blames national party for putting together this flier.

The Utah Republican Party has sent out a mailer criticizing Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson for supporting a bill sponsored by Utah GOP stalwarts Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Cannon.

State Republican Party executive director Spencer Jenkins said the "unfortunate" situation was discovered by party leaders when the mailers — which he said were printed and researched by the National Republican Congressional Committee — arrived at party headquarters several weeks ago.

"We said 'Uh-oh' when we realized" the mailer's contents, Jenkins said.

The mailer criticizes Matheson for supporting congressional efforts to give in-state tuition at public universities to dependents of illegal aliens who are residents of a state. The Hatch/Cannon bill is called the Dream Act because it aims to help poorer Americans realize the dream of bettering themselves with a college education.

Jenkins said party leaders — who include Chris Cannon's older brother, state GOP chairman Joe Cannon — decided to send out the mailer anyway to 76,000 Salt Lake County households in Matheson's 2nd District.

Joe Cannon said Monday night he did not personally see the flier and that if it had been "up to me, I wouldn't have sent it out. . . . State parties across the country are acting as conduits for TV and print advertising created and paid for by the national parties, and that is what happened here."

Jenkins said state leaders feared that if the mailers were returned to the NRCC in Washington, D.C., the party PAC would send them out itself. And rejecting the mailer could, Jenkins added, have hurt chances of the NRCC participating in any joint efforts with the Utah GOP.

Matheson's GOP challenger, John Swallow, had nothing to do with the "unfortunate" mailer, Jenkins said.

However, NRCC spokesman Bo Harmon said the national party had no part in the mix-up.

"That was a Utah Republican Party piece (of mail). They researched it and printed it. We had nothing to do with it," Harmon said.

The mailer does carry the Utah Republican Party's return address and mailing permit number and says: "Paid for by the Utah Republican Party." But Jenkins said party volunteers just addressed the mailer and sent it out and the state party had nothing to do with its content.

The flier reads in part: "Utah families pay taxes for the right to pay in-state tuition . . . and Matheson wants to give it away to those who are here illegally."

It details how much Utah families pay in taxes, which, in turn, go to support Utah's colleges and universities. "Jim Matheson. Wrong for Utah families," it adds.

Part of the flier also includes a headline from a Nov. 23, 2003, Salt Lake Tribune article about illegal aliens coming to Utah. The article, Jenkins acknowledged, had nothing to do with illegal aliens getting in-state tuition.

"This (mailer) points out that the national (Republican Party) will do anything, break any trust, have no integrity at all," Matheson said. "They will even throw two of their own (Hatch and Chris Cannon) under the wheels of the bus."

Matheson said that apparently Hatch and Rep. Cannon are also wrong for Utah families.

Hatch was not immediately available for comment Monday.

Monday evening, Rep. Cannon said that he still supports his bill and has no idea why the Utah Republican Party would criticize Matheson for co-sponsoring it. "I don't know what goes on over there."

Swallow and the NRCC have taken a low road in negative campaigning, charged Matheson, who added he was glad to co-sponsor the Hatch and Cannon bill. The bill is still pending in Congress.

"I hope voters recognize (the campaign tactic) and reject it," Matheson said.

To add more irony to the mailer, in 2002 conservative state Rep. Dave Ure, R-Kamas, a member of the conservative so-called Cowboy Caucus and a candidate for speaker of the Utah House, sponsored a bill that passed the Legislature in 2002 that also gives dependents of illegal aliens who live in Utah the right to pay in-state tuition. Swallow, who was in the state House at the time, voted against it.

The new state law has been working for more than a year, and dozens of students have taken advantage of it, said Nancy Lyon, University of Utah assistant vice president for government affairs.

Jenkins said the NRCC and the Utah Republican Party have worked jointly on 14 separate mailers that have gone out either supporting Swallow, criticizing Matheson or both.

"This is an unfortunate incident," said Jenkins, who when first asked about the mailer by the Deseret Morning News said he did not recall that specific piece of mail and would have to research its origins.

It is too bad that proper "foresight" on the piece was not exhibited, he added, confirming that the piece is about the Hatch/Cannon Dream Act, although the act is not named.

New Federal Election Commission reports show that the NRCC has spent more than $14 million across the nation on targeted U.S. House races this year, Utah's 2nd District being one of them.

As of Thursday, FEC reports show the NRCC has spent just over $1 million in pro-Swallow or anti-Matheson TV ads, mailers and telephone calls.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com