Matt Throckmorton, Scourge of Illegal Immigrants

Posted May 28, 2004 at 4:58pm

The Utah GOP faithful’s unwillingness to endorse four-term Rep. Chris Cannon (R) at the state Republican convention last month, forcing him into a primary, gives Matt Throckmorton hope that his message is finally reaching voters in the central part of the state.

“It’s fairly significant,” the 36-year-old flooring contractor said. “Everybody thought he was going to get the nomination and he didn’t.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Cannon was held to 57 percent at the state GOP convention. He needed 60 percent to avoid the June 22 primary with Throckmorton, who lost outright to Cannon at the 2002 convention, forestalling a primary.

In one of the whitest states in the union, the political neophyte is counting on the issue of immigration to oust the incumbent — whose brother happens to be chairman of the Utah Republican Party.

Throckmorton has been hammering Cannon for his proposal, backed by President Bush, to give illegal farm workers residing in the United States an opportunity to become citizens.

Cannon has fired back, charging that Throckmorton and anti-immigration groups running ads against him in his district based in Salt Lake and Utah counties are racist.

Throckmorton says that is not the case. The issue is Cannon’s unwillingness to listen to his constituents, he said.

“He’s reaching out to Hispanic voters but amnesty is not the way,” the former state legislator said. “Utahns want legal immigration and what frustrates us to no end is that our Congressman … is doing everything he can for illegal immigration.”

The 3rd district, which includes conservative Brigham Young University in Provo and the surrounding heavily Mormon area, is about 10 percent Hispanic.

The director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs estimated that about 50,000 undocumented Latinos live in Utah, according to the Deseret Morning News.

But Throckmorton insists that xenophobia is not the driving force behind what he sees as 3rd district voters’ disapproval of Cannon’s legislation. Economics and a sense of fair play is.

While a few residents who call Throckmorton’s campaign to complain about the immigration proposal take a racist tone, he said most say they oppose it because it would depress wages in the area, which are already depressed.

Others are legal immigrants who went through the long process of naturalization and believe newer arrivals should too, he said.

Throckmorton founded a group called Utahns for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, which lobbied the state Legislature to prevent illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition rates this year.

Cannon has tried to link that organization and Throckmorton to national anti-immigration groups campaigning against him.

One of the groups that attacked Cannon’s stance with billboards was ProjectUSA.

Nonprofits by law cannot coordinate with Throckmorton’s campaign and Throckmorton said neither ProjectUSA, nor any other group, has apprised him of their actions.

ProjectUSA does make positive note of Throckmorton on its Web site, but Throckmorton says he has not been endorsed by the organization or any similar group.

While the issue continues to dominate debates between the candidates, a statewide Utah Foundation poll released in March said voters rank immigration 14th out of 17 in importance, the Deseret News reported.

Beyond immigration, Throckmorton says Cannon is also dead wrong in his support of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“Chris does not understand the state of Utah, its wants and needs … and it shows in his votes,” Throckmorton charged.

As evidenced by letters to the editor in local papers, Throckmorton seems to be in line with 3rd district voters on the immigration issue but still trails in polls.

With just three weeks until the primary, Cannon led Throckmorton 47 percent to 25 percent with 19 percent undecided, according to a recent poll with a high error margin conducted for the Deseret Morning News. In November, the winner will face Democrat Beau Babka, an unsuccessful candidate for Salt Lake County sheriff in 2002.

Cannon has significantly outraised Throckmorton too, though neither had much cash on hand in the latest Federal Election Commission reports. Through April 18, Throckmorton had just $2,000 in his campaign account; Cannon had $27,000.

“He’ll out fundraise us,” Throckmorton acknowledged, saying he is counting on grassroots efforts and a large voter turnout to carry him to victory. “It’s going to be a close race.”