Paul Gibbs: Utah will miss Ben McAdams

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams, looking to retain his seat for Utah’s 4th Congressional District, conducts an interview as he keeps an eye on vote count from his small election watch party at Pat’s BBQ in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

I was at Salt Lake City International Airport in July 2019, waiting to board a flight to Washington, D.C. I was set to testify to the House Oversight Committee about the need to protect preexisting conditions like my transplanted kidney, and was feeling nervous and alone.

I’ve had agoraphobia and anxiety/panic disorder my whole life, and flying across the country alone to face a committee where half the members would be openly hostile was intimidating. Then I spotted a familiar face in line for the same plane: My representative, Ben McAdams.

We’d met at various events, and he knew about my medical issues and health care activism. Rep. McAdams immediately expressed his support and looked for ways to help me. When it came time for the hearing, he was needed elsewhere. But he sent a staffer to express support and be there for me (something the other five patient advocates testifying didn’t get from their representatives). I ended up never feeling I was alone there in Washington, because someone there had my back, and it was my own elected representative.

This story sums up how I’ve felt during McAdams’ entire term in Congress: Someone representing Utah finally had my back.

I’ve long been used to feeling that members of Utah’s congressional delegation ignores a large portion of their constituents. They’ve certainly never seemed sympathetic to those of us who need the protections or provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Even Jim Matheson, my former Democratic representative, repeatedly voted with congressional Republicans to repeal the law. His Republican successor, Mia Love, frequently spoke of constituents who had problems with the ACA, but I never heard her acknowledge those of us who reached out through various means to tell her we couldn’t survive without it.

But Ben McAdams did something I don’t believe anyone else in the present or recent past of Utah’s delegation has done: He genuinely listened to and cared about both sides. McAdams has regularly acknowledged, as do I, that the ACA is flawed and needs fixing. But he understood that repeal would have devastating results. On this and so many issues, McAdams gave this nearly lifelong Utahn his only experience feeling represented by one of our members of Congress.

McAdams’ approach of listening to both side has shown in his bipartisan approach to his office. He was recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce among those selected for the inaugural Jefferson-Hamilton Award for Bipartisanship. His work with Sen. Mitt Romney on behalf of the Navajo Nation demonstrates how reaching across the aisle can help to do good for those who need it most.

And, while the rest of our delegation seemed to easily take the party line, McAdams agonized about making the right choice in his vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump. He searched for solutions to avoid increasing the division that hamstrings Washington, before accepting that none was possible. McAdams did his duty by voting with the evidence that the president’s action warranted impeachment.

McAdams isn’t finished. He’ll continue to do good work in whatever way he chooses. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, I come to praise McAdams, not to bury him. It’s Utah for whom I mourn. I’m afraid we won’t see this kind of thoughtful, genuine representation that rises above partisanship again soon.

We certainly won’t see it in the 4th District. Our incoming representative is a promoter of conspiracy theories who characterizes all Democrats as “narcissists and sociopaths.“ I mourn because while Ben McAdams was not reelected, he wasn’t the one who lost: It was Utah.

Paul Gibbs

Paul Gibbs is an independent filmmaker and health care activist who has lived in Utah since he was 5 years old. He currently resides in West Valley City (in Utah’s 4th Congressional District) with his wife and two young sons.