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The Hidden Hand of Violence
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Human Rights Leadership

Profile - U.S. Representative Matt Salmon

by Peter Mansell

U.S. Representative Matt Salmon I
n 1990, Arthur J. Bomar, Jr. was released from prison in Nevada on parole. Bomar had served 11 years of a murder sentence for killing a man over an argument about a parking space. Six years later in Pennsylvania, Bomar brutally kidnapped, raped and murdered George Mason University star athlete Aimee Willard. This time, Bomar was not given another chance. In October 1998, he was sentenced to death for Aimee’s murder.

Bomar is but one of a long list of felons convicted for murder, rape or child molestation who have been released, only to repeat heinous crimes.

Among those crimes was the tragic murder of nine-year-old Megan Kanka, whose death at the hands of a released, convicted child molester spurred “Megan’s Law,” under which U.S. citizens have the right to be informed when a convicted child molester moves into their midst.

The conviction that such repeat crimes are entirely preventable drove U.S. Representative Matt Salmon to introduce House Resolution 894 in the 106th legislative session. The bipartisan “No Second Chances for Murderers, Rapists, or Child Molesters Act” — known as “Aimee’s Law” — provides a simple solution: penalize states who release convicted murders, rapists or child molesters if they commit one of these crimes in another state.

Under the proposed law, which passed the Senate with a vote of 81–17 in May, the state who paroled the convict would have to compensate the second state. The Attorney General, using federal law enforcement funds, would transfer costs from the state that released the criminal to the second state who had to apprehend, prosecute and incarcerate the criminal. With its financial incentive for states, the bill has been called “fiendishly clever” by its opponents.

Crime Victims’ Rights

Rep. Salmon’s tenure as public servant has perhaps been most memorable precisely because of his own ability to follow the dictates of his conscience.

“Victims’ rights is a serious human rights problem,” Rep. Salmon told Freedom. “There are all kinds of protections for accusers and victims are left holding an empty sack. Criminals have more rights than their victims do. That is fundamentally wrong.”

Rep. Salmon also notes that sentences for violent crimes, and particularly sex crimes against women and children, are “incredibly weak.” A full 13 percent of all convicted rapists never serve any jail time at all. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, the average time actually served for those men convicted of rape who do go to prison is 5 and 1/2 years; for sexual assault — including molestation and lewd acts with children — is just 4 years. The average time served for murder is 8 years.

By making states fully responsible for repeat offenses by violent criminals and child molesters, the law would minimally impose much tighter controls and far more caution in releasing them.

“What Matt has done is at long last found a way to make the individual states pay attention to, be accountable for, and take responsibility for the release of a very dangerous subset of criminals — not through legislating morality, but through legislating the distribution of funding,” said Marc Klaas, father of murder victim Polly Klaas and supporter of Aimee’s Law. “Many politicians have only their self interests at heart. But Matt Salmon is really concerned about the public welfare. We need more people like that.”

A Career Hallmark

Reps. Salmon, Sheil Jackson Lee, Bob Ney and Joe Scarborough
As a member of the Helsinki Commission, Rep. Salmon, pictured with Reps. Sheil Jackson Lee, Bob Ney and Joe Scarborough, was instrumental in bringing about hearings to address government discrimination based on religion or belief.

Matt Salmon’s desire to protect citizens from all forms of abuse and to increase human rights has been the hallmark of his public service career.

“When it comes to human rights, you can count on Matt Salmon to defend them,” said U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, liberal Democrat from New York. “He does it not to push an agenda but because he feels it is the right thing to do.”

When elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 to represent Arizona’s 1st District, he had already gained a reputation as a conservative with a conscience for his focus on children and the developmentally disabled while serving four years in the Arizona State Senate.

Rep. Salmon has earned a similar reputation in the U.S. Congress, particularly among taxpayer and government watchdog groups, from whom he annually receives awards for cutting waste and improving taxpayer rights.

During his three terms in Congress, Rep. Salmon has focused on a variety of issues to improve measures for the care and protection of U.S. citizens, including health care reform and child support enforcement. His amendment to welfare reform was signed into law in 1996, facilitating the collection of child support from “deadbeat” parents.

Rep. Salmon’s role as citizens’ guardian has extended to his active participation in human rights issues abroad as a member of the House International Relations Committee and its subcommittees on Asia and the Pacific and International Operations and Human Rights.

In fact, it was events in Asia, particularly the Tianmenan Square massacre, that most affected his current outlook on human rights issues. “When those students were murdered,” Rep. Salmon said, “it broke my heart like nothing could have.”

Priority Concern

Taking a first-hand approach to understanding and resolving such human rights issues, Rep. Salmon — who lived in Taiwan for two years as a Mormon missionary, and speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently — has visited Taiwan, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tibet on official business since being in Congress. A primary focus has been to raise concerns about religious freedom, a priority concern for the Congressman. While in China earlier this year, Rep. Salmon secured the agreement of Chinese officials to review a list of eight “prisoners of conscience,” mostly Tibetan nuns and priests.

“Matt did his missionary work in Taiwan and has a real love of the Chinese people,” said Lamar Slight, Director for International and Government Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “But what I see in Matt is a belief that people of all faiths have the right to worship as they wish. He acts in defending the rights of people everywhere.”

From his position as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), Rep. Salmon was behind hearings and a proposed bipartisan house resolution to address government discrimination based on religion or belief in Germany. Government-instigated discrimination in Germany increased dramatically under the Helmut Kohl government, targeting Charismatic Christians, Muslims, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and other minority groups.

Dictates of Conscience

U.S. Representative Matt Salmon
Actions to increase human rights, and to protect citizens from all forms of abuse, have been the hallmark of Rep. Matt Salmon’s public service career.

“If we don’t stop discrimination at the forefront, particularly in Germany and the rest of Europe, we will have a much harder path in the future,” said Rep. Salmon. “If we don’t speak up because we don’t want to offend our friends, we have lost the moral high ground.”

Under the resolution, the House of Representatives would officially urge — and call upon the President of the United States to assert — that the German government uphold its commitments to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, and foster a climate of mutual tolerance and respect between government and targeted groups.

Those commitments are expressed in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Vienna Concluding Document of 1989 — a fundamental convention on religious freedom in European nations — in addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Helsinki Accords to respect and guarantee freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.

“Internationally, religious freedom ought to be our number one priority,” Rep. Salmon said. “We, as a rule, ought to stand for the rights of people to worship as to the dictates of their conscience.”

Rep. Salmon’s tenure as public servant has perhaps been most memorable precisely because of his own ability to follow the dictates of his conscience.

Out of his commitment to term limitations, for example, in 1995 he submitted his own resignation, effective January 2001, to limit his U.S. Congressional service to three terms. And during those terms, he has also had his share of controversy, including his prominent role in effecting House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s resignation in late 1998. Rep. Salmon had no regrets despite the tempests that followed him in Congressional halls and in the media.

As Rep. Engel put it, “He will do what he thinks is right for his constituents and his country, regardless of consequences.”

But it is Rep. Salmon’s record on human rights issues throughout his three terms that has been the strongest indication of what he thinks is right. That perception is founded on his own basic philosophy that “we are all members of the human race, and we have a mutual responsibility to look out for each other.”
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