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Matheson’s gig as lobbyist changed path of his life, career

Politics » The son of a governor wanted to make his own path — not following family tradition into law.

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But Roach, Matheson and the Environmental Policy Center argued the effort harmed the planet and wasted money. They essentially said the technologies didn’t exist to produce such energy on a commercial scale. They were major players in a three-year campaign, which culminated Dec. 18, 1985, when President Ronald Reagan agreed the corporation was a failure and Congress pulled funding.

"We succeeded," Matheson said. "And how often does Congress vote to eliminate an entity?"

At a glance

Jim Matheson bio

Age » 52

Family » Wife, Amy Herbener, and their two boys, William and Harris

Education » Harvard, bachelor’s degree, and UCLA, MBA

Birthplace » Salt Lake City

Occupation » Consultant for energy companies

Hobbies » Couples bridge; fantasy football; sports fan

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Gov. Matheson may have helped his son get the job, but he wasn’t happy with the result. He, along with Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, supported the Synthetic Fuels Corp. and had lined up a $184.3 million federal loan guarantee for the Seep Ridge oil shale project. The corporation canceled a meeting to approve the Utah project the day after Congress yanked its funding.

"The governor was doing his job and Jim was doing his, and Jim won," Dunlap said. "His father had to respect that."

Jim Matheson said: "We clearly talked about the issues, but he didn’t agree with what I was doing. I think history has borne out that I was right."

There has never been a commercially viable oil shale project in Utah, though there are exploratory attempts — some in the same Seep Ridge area in the Uinta Basin. Matheson said he supports oil shale as long as it is commercially feasible without government subsidies.

The pursuit of love » Dunlap remembers Jim Matheson as unflappable and always armed "with an easy smile."

"He was really handsome, but it was so funny because he was modest about it," she said, recalling how he would blush when women in the office would flirt.

"Somehow he had his eye on someone else," said Dunlap’s husband, Joe Browder.

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That someone was Amy Herbener.

Matheson met her while in college, when he participated in a group blind date organized by women from nearby Wellesley College. They liked each other, but their flirtations didn’t turn into a serious relationship until Herbener took a job with an environmental consulting firm in Washington and tracked down Matheson.

"She found me at my brother’s house," he said.

Their romance may never have developed if he had written that law school essay, but like the relationships of many driven couples, once together, they had to endure some time apart when their career goals diverged.

In 1984, Matheson took a leave of absence from the Environmental Policy Center to return to Utah and run the gubernatorial campaign of Rep. Wayne Owens, a close family friend. Owens’ bid to succeed Scott Matheson in the governor’s mansion failed when he lost convincingly to Republican Norm Bangerter.

Matheson enjoyed the managerial aspects of the campaign and his lobbying efforts, so he decided to pursue a business degree at the University of California-Los Angeles. Herbener would follow a year later after winning a transfer from the consulting firm. They would marry in 1991.

The Bonneville blow up » Armed with a master’s degree, Matheson re-entered the job hunt in 1987, looking to leave California. He caught on at Bonneville Pacific, a high-profile private energy company in Utah that was creating a buzz in the business world. His father was a board member at Bonneville, but it is unclear if he was in this post when his son was hired.

At Bonneville, Jim Matheson’s job was to develop cogeneration projects, which essentially generate electricity and useful heat, making plants and factories more efficient.

He had some success with gypsum plants in Las Vegas, but then the company imploded in a fraud investigation that resulted in prison terms for top executives.

The scandal hit at an emotional time for Matheson. His father died of cancer the year before and he was planning his wedding. He was laid off in 1991 when the company went bankrupt.

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