Mother Jones reporter and Utah native Stephanie Mencimer takes a look at newly minted Utah Rep. Mia Love, the first African-American Republican woman elected to Congress, and finds she's just part of a distressing a depressing trend of recent GOP Representatives who care more about the national spotlight than local constituents.
Of all the victories conservatives are crowing about this week, none seem as welcome as that of Utah's Mia Love, the first black Republican woman ever to be elected to Congress. She's been the subject of fawning profiles and officially dubbed a "rock star" by Michelle Malkin and other right-wing pundits. But Mia Love is a rock star mostly to people who don't live in Utah.
To a person like me, born and raised in Utah, Love's victory is a symbol of our trend toward nationalized elections. Her issues are generic, conservative hobby horses—defund Obamacare, abolish the Department of Education, etc.—the opposite of Tip O'Neill's old adage about all politics being local. She has adopted precisely one Utah-specific platform point from state conservatives—the demand that the federal government turn over to the state all the land it owns in Utah, a long-running and hopeless quest that is deeply opposed by the state's environmentalists. Beyond that, Love, a persona preternaturally well suited for Fox News, has an embarrassingly weak grasp of policy—particularly as it relates to her adopted home state.
Now there's a shocker. A Republican who looks really good outside her state, but is dismal towards it. Why does that sound familiar?
Love has made a big show of her concern for the Second Amendment and her fondness for packing heat—issues that sell well with both Utah and national conservatives. But the summer of 2012 saw a rash of costly wildfires in Utah, including a big one in Saratoga Springs that required the evacuation of 9,000 of Love's fellow residents. It was one of at least 20 fires attributed to outdoor target shooters, whom Utah's Republican governor was desperately trying to persuade to use indoor ranges instead. Not long after the governor made his appeal, Love made a big appearance on the Today Show, where she showed off her shooting skills—outside, in the dry brush.
Born in Brooklyn, Love first relocated to Connecticut before moving to Saratoga Springs in 1998 after converting to Mormonism. I spent some time in Saratoga Springs in 2012, and was struck by what a transient place it was. A new suburb of Salt Lake City, it didn't even exist until 1997, and everyone I met there had come from somewhere else. Few were Utah natives, and next to none of them had heard of Love, even though she'd been their mayor or a city councilwoman for several years. Even Saratoga Springs' congressional district was brand new, having been gerrymandered in 2012 by a state Legislature intent on ousting Matheson, the state's lone Democrat, from his perch in Congress. In some ways, it was the perfect place to launch a congressional career. Being the mayor of Saratoga Springs was like being the mayor of nowhere—or everywhere, depending on your perspective.
In other words, if if sounds to you like Mia Love is the perfectly manufactured candidate for the "post-racial" FOX News age of America, that's because she is. She's being packaged and sold, a product for consumption by guilty GOP voters who feel better that a black Mormon woman supports what they stand for, and isn't one of those people. How good of a product Mia Love is is pretty self-evident. How good of a Representative she is to the people of Utah, well, that doesn't really matter, does it?
Ask Eric Cantor about that.
Absolution for sale. Get it while it's fresh.