U.S. Must Avoid Going Overboard on Security

Sporting a pair of cowboy boots to go with his suit and tie, Rep. Jim Matheson spoke about Sept. 11, technology and congressional campaigning to more than 100 students yesterday.

Utah’s 2nd District congressman, Matheson told the standing-room-only crowd at the Hinckley Institute of Politics he champions government-funded research, especially at colleges and universities.

“You have to have faith that it’s the right thing to do?The advances we enjoy today are because of government-funded research 30 to 40 years ago,” he said. “With research, you’ve got to be patient.”

Advanced technology is the key to solving homeland security issues and energy problems. “Serious technological advances” are needed before nuclear power becomes viable, he said. Matheson is opposed to attempts by eastern power plants to ship 40,000 tons of nuclear waste to Skull Valley in the Goshute Indian Reservation 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

“Once it comes here, it’s never going to leave,” he said.

Matheson discussed the development of biotechnology for security purposes, such as retinal and fingerprint scans. A member of the House Transportation Committee, Matheson has been involved in security issues resulting from Sept. 11. He spoke of a keypad at the Boston airport where employees had written the password on the wall right above it.

Terrorists can defeat keypads or take an ID card, but retinal scans could effectively stop them.

“I think technology is the key to airport security,” Matheson said. “This is what we need to start thinking about.”

Most of the post-Sept. 11 focus on transportation security has concerned airlines, Matheson said, but automobiles and boats shouldn’t be ignored.

He estimated 400 boats come into U.S. ports every day, but only 19 of them are searched. He talked about trucks carrying nuclear waste across the country.

“Who’s driving these?” he asked.

Noting that two of the Sept. 11 plane hijackers had student visas, Matheson wants to reform immigration services to protect the United States from “folks coming in illegally to do bad things.”

He is worried that with increased security, however, the United States could overspend and/or trample on personal liberties.

“I saw the Pentagon burning that day and the world changed?our two oceans don’t protect us anymore,” Matheson said. “I just hope we don’t rush to judgement and go overboard.”

The Bush Administration has, in general, reacted well to difficult circumstances, he continued.

A first-term congressman, Matheson is up for re-election this year, but the boundaries of his district are much different than in 2000.

After the 2000 census, the state Legislature redrew the lines of Utah’s three congressional districts, including large, rural portions into Matheson’s 2nd District, which previously contained just metropolitan Salt Lake. Many criticized the Republican Legislature of “gerrymandering” the districts so a Democrat couldn’t win in the 2nd District.

Utah is contesting the 2000 census, saying the federal government used illegal counting techniques to gauge Utah’s population. Utah wants a fourth congressional seat, which would result in changing congressional boundaries for Matheson.

He said he’s not worried either way, though.

“For me, I’m just sitting back and raising money,” he said.

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