With Republican Rep. Jeff Flake running for the Senate, former Rep. Matt Salmon launched a successful bid to return to the House in Flake’s old Mesa-area district. In such solidly Republican territory, Salmon’s election was a foregone conclusion. The real fireworks came during the primary, when he toppled former state House Speaker Kirk Adams.
Salmon was born in Salt Lake City. His father worked for Mountain Bell Telephone, and a promotion led the family to relocate to Albuquerque, N.M. The Salmons eventually settled near Mesa, Ariz., where he graduated high school as the student body president. As a Mormon, Salmon did his missionary work in Taiwan from 1977 to 1979. “We spoke Mandarin every day. And after six months there, I was dreaming in Chinese,” he recalled in an interview. In 1981, he graduated from Arizona State University. He later worked in public affairs for telecommunications company US West. Salmon was elected to the Arizona Senate in 1990 and rose to become assistant majority leader.
In 1994, he ran for Congress as part of the Newt Gingrich-led group of Republicans who called themselves revolutionaries and campaigned on a national agenda called the “Contract With America.” In the general election, he faced off against Democratic state Sen. Chuck Blanchard, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Blanchard took some moderate positions and ran a tough campaign. But Salmon still won, 56 percent to 39 percent, as Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
During his first stint in the House, Salmon served on the International Relations Committee, since renamed the Foreign Affairs Committee. As a fluent Mandarin speaker, he criticized China’s human-rights violations. After meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, he helped secure the release of imprisoned academic Song Yongyi. One of Salmon’s accomplishments that he still touts was coauthoring “Aimee’s Law,” which used financial measures to discourage states from releasing incarcerated rapists and murderers. Unlike many of the Republicans elected in the 1994 class, he was faithful to a self-imposed three-term limit on his service, and left Congress in 2000.
Salmon ran an unsuccessful bid for governor against Janet Napolitano in 2002. He later became chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. He also registered to lobby, working on telecommunications issues and serving as president of the high-tech trade association COMPTEL.
In 2011, Salmon launched his campaign to return to Congress, placing special emphasis on the national debt. “My feeling is, if guys like me that can make a difference don’t try, then shame on us,” he said. The race pitted the more youthful Adams against the more experienced Salmon. In a debate, Adams characterized Salmon as past his prime, while Salmon countered that seniority is important in Washington. Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed Salmon, but Adams got the support of Flake and Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona. Salmon also won endorsements from antitax group Club for Growth and The Arizona Republic.
The two candidates agreed on most issues, pushing for less regulation and lower taxes. Adams ran an ad accusing Salmon of lobbying for pharmaceutical companies that supported President Obama’s health care law. Salmon said the drug companies were only looking for a small provision in the law and that he vehemently opposed “Obamacare.” Salmon prevailed in the primary, 52 percent to 48 percent, and easily dispatched Democratic community activist Spencer Morgan in the fall.
Salmon’s youngest son, medical student Matt R. Salmon, is openly gay and president of the state Log Cabin Republicans. The elder Salmon, a traditional social conservative, says his views on gay rights have not changed. “I respect his right to believe the way he wants to, and he respects my right to believe the way I want to,” he said.