2nd District hopefuls spar over N-waste, bombs
By Rebecca Walsh
The Salt Lake Tribune
The race for Utah's 2nd Congressional District is getting hot.
Republican challenger John Swallow is throwing barbs at U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, hoping a debate over studying the Bush administration's "bunker buster" nuclear bombs, resuming tests of such weapons in Nevada and storing radioactive waste in Utah will persuade voters to dump the incumbent.
Swallow has carved out a platform of researching the president's new weapons, but not physically testing them. He also insists he would block storage of radioactive waste in Utah, but simultaneously supports San Juan County's right to study a "Plan B" alternative to the Goshutes' plans to store nuclear fuel rods southwest of Tooele.
"Information is power," Swallow told The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board on Wednesday.
Matheson counters that Swallow is trying to play both sides. "In this campaign, this issue has emerged as the critical difference between the two of us," he said.
Swallow calls Matheson's introduction of legislation earlier this year to block nuclear testing a "political year stunt." He insists he would have filed the bill sooner and supports Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett's similar legislation. At the same time, he backs the $96 million bill to research the president's new weapons. He reconciles the two seemingly contradictory stands by insisting the weapons could be tested in computer models.
Then, he chides Matheson, who opposes developing the new nuclear weapons, for being soft on America's defense.
"It's irresponsible in our world right now to be weakening our nation," Swallow said.
The congressman says his opponent's claims reveal his naivete about how Washington works. Matheson says Congress would not waste money to research new nuclear bombs and then not test them.
"It's naive to think that this will just be a study," he said. "I don't think Utah wants nuclear testing. I know it's not what I want."
The incumbent points out that he was the first member of Utah's delegation to introduce legislation blocking the resumption of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Range. He says he plans to add provisions for public comment like Bennett's to his bill when Congress reconvenes.
"He wants to criticize me? Does he want to criticize the rest of our delegation for doing nothing?" Matheson asked. "For anyone to suggest I was slow picking this up, that's just politics, just false."
As for Swallow's charge that he is weak on defense, Matheson notes he has been endorsed by several veterans groups this year.
In a final charge, Swallow pledges to introduce legislation "within two months" to allow each state a "veto" to block plans to store radioactive waste within its borders. At the same time, Swallow told delegates at the San Juan County Republican Convention in April he supports the county's right to study storing spent nuclear fuel rods on state land in southern Utah rather than on the Goshute Indian Reservation. On Wednesday, Swallow said he would stop attempts to store hotter radioactive waste in Utah and studying "Plan B" would not change his mind. He says backing a study of the idea is not inconsistent.
"It's called being a representative of the people," he said. "Important issues need to be studied."
Matheson questions whether Congress would grant regulation of the nation's nuclear waste to the state. And he wonders why Swallow would let county leaders waste their time. "You can't have it both ways," he said.
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