On Saturday, Utah Republicans gave their nomination for a new heavily GOP Congressional seat to a surprising choice: Mia Love, the 37-year-old daughter of Haitian immigrants and the mayor of Saratoga Springs, a community of 18,000 outside Salt Lake City.
Utah selects its candidates at party conventions with primaries only occurring if no one wins 60 percent or more of delegates. Love won the nomination on the final ballot when she beat former state legislator Carl Wimmer with 70 percent of the vote.
She now goes on to face Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson in a newly drawn district that Matheson is moving into because his old seat was stuffed with too many Republicans during redistricting. But the new seat is no bargain for him. Sprawling south of Salt Lake City, two-thirds of its residents will be new to him and the generic Republican vote is at least 60 percent. A Salt Lake Tribune poll this month had Matheson ahead of Love by only 45 percent to 42 percent, with the incumbent well below the 50 percent mark that is traditionally considered essential to win reelection. Love is already making progress. A KSL-TV poll last December showed her trailing Matheson by 17 percentage points.
Love’s presence in Congress would certainly shake up the House. I met her at CPAC, the annual conservative conference, where she gave a stirring speech: “According to liberals, I’m not supposed to exist. I know that I am going to be a target for the Left. I have something to say to them: Game On.”
She was right about being a target. The liberal website Daily Kos ran an article about her race in January in which it dismissed her as “one of only two African-Americans living in Utah not currently playing for the Jazz.” It went on to claim “the GOP is clearly desperate for a new token black Republican, after Herman Cain and Michael Steele didn’t pan out.”
Love says she is no token, but that her family’s immigrant experience did shape her. Her parents came to the U.S. knowing no English. Her father became a paint-company manager while her mother worked as a nurse. They taught her to not to “be a burden to society.”
“I had a front-row seat for two people living the American dream,” she told her CPAC audience earlier this year. “I will not stand by as we leave our children a legacy of debt and dependency.”
After graduating from the University of Hartford with a degree in fine arts, Love moved to Utah in 1998 to stay with a friend for a few months and started dating Jason Love, a Mormon missionary she had known in Connecticut. She joined the church just before they were married. They now have three children ranging in age from four to twelve. She won a seat on her local city council in 2004 at the age of 29, and in 2010 she ran for mayor and won.
Public office brought her challenges. Saratoga Springs was a boom town in the early 2000s, but then ran into a brick wall as the housing bubble collapsed in 2008. The city faced a budget gap of more than $3 million. It dealt with it by cutting expenditures by $2 million and raising its property tax for the first time from 0.09 percent to 0.2 percent. She told me at CPAC she expects to be attacked for the tax hike, but says the experience marks her as someone who has had to lay people off and cut programs.
If she makes it to Congress, expect her to shake up the Congressional Black Caucus à la Florida’s Allen West. “I would join the CBC and try to take that thing apart from the inside out,” she told the Deseret News in January.
She explained that the current CBC membership is steeped in “demagoguery.” “They sit there and ignite emotions and ignite racism when there isn’t,” she said. “They use their positions to instill fear. Hope and change is turned into fear and blame. Fear that everybody is going to lose everything and blaming Congress for everything instead of taking responsibility.”
Mia Love is all about responsibility and holding people accountable. Should she win in November, it won’t take her long to be noticed on Capitol Hill.