Lopsided defeat in 7th grade didn't prevent later success

When Matt Salmon was in the 7th grade, he ran in his first election - class secretary. He lost. "I got killed," he said. "It was the icing on the cake. I thought, `See, I knew I couldn't accomplish anything.' "

But his mother wouldn't accept that attitude in her son. "My mom always believed in me. She always said, `You can do anything you want to do.' "Now 37 years old, Brother Salmon of the Salt River Ward, Mesa Arizona Red Mountain Stake, has, indeed, accomplished something. He was elected Nov. 8, 1994, to the U.S. House of Representatives. On Jan. 4, he was sworn in as representative of the 1st Congressional District in Arizona, with his wife, Nancy, children and parents at his side.

"As an elected leader, the best thing I can do is lead by example," Brother Salmon told the Church News during a telephone interview. In speaking of the power of example, he referred to the words of Alma to his son Corianton in Alma 39 in the Book of Mormon. "The message that I get loud and clear from that passage of scripture is that not only as a member of the Church am I supposed to watch what I'm doing, but as a congressman, I've got to watch my step and practice what I preach.

"If I slip, I could cause other people to believe that their vote doesn't make a difference, that - at least in that instance - democracy doesn't work. It's an awesome responsibility. If I have one desire, it's to lead by example."

Continuing, he added: "If I can convey anything to anybody, if I have any success, it will be to help people understand that government can't solve our problems. The only solution to the fundamental problems in America is to return to the basics - to strengthen our families, to participate in our churches."

Throughout his life, he has focused on both his family and his faith. He served a full-time mission to Taiwan, and has been a stake director of public affairs, elders quorum president and teacher, ward Young Men president and counselor, a gospel doctrine teacher and youth Sunday School teacher, and Cubmaster.

As a young boy, Brother Salmon learned the importance of a solid family foundation. He was born in Salt Lake City to Robert and Gloria Aagard Salmon. The family moved to nearby Ogden when he was 4, and to Albuquerque, N.M., when he was 8. He termed the move a "tremendous change."

"I went from a Mormon on every corner to where I was one of maybe two Mormons in the whole school," he said. "I was there during the '60s, and it was a very turbulent time. Mormon people were not held in very high regard. I remember being beat up just because I was Mormon. It was tough."

When the young man was about 12 years old, the family moved to Tempe, Ariz., where his parents still live today. During Brother Salmon's youth, he looked to his parents for direction and guidance.

"My parents always led and taught by example. My father never asked us to do anything that he wouldn't do. My dad always said, `Your word is your bond, and that's the only thing you're really going to walk out of this life with - what you were.' "

Brother Salmon spoke with warmth of his mother's unwavering faith - in the gospel and in her children. It was she, the new congressman recalled, who helped instill in him confidence after losing the 7th grade election. "She got me into chorus, and I took to that like fish to water. I ended up with a solo voice, and it built my confidence up."

During his senior year at Mesa High School, he was student body president. He went on to BYU with a leadership scholarship, but gave it up after one semester to serve in the Taiwan Kaohsiung Mission from 1977 to 1979.

"Anything that I've ever done in my life since my mission I have to track back to my mission," he noted. He spoke of "interrelationships with other people - learning how to deal with people you supervise, learning to deal with others who are having problems but also to expect the best out of people. I was a district leader and a zone leader."

Soon after his mission, the young man met Nancy Huish. "I fell in love immediately, and I proposed within two months." They were married June 8, 1979, in the Arizona Temple. Today, they have four children: Lara, 13; Jacob, 12; Katie, 9; and Matthew, 6.

After graduating in 1981 from Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in English literature, Brother Salmon began working for Mountain Bell in Tucson. "I was 23 years old, and I was placed in a management position. I had a cable-splicing crew of about 20 guys and the youngest was twice my age. Here I was, a wet-behind-the-ears college graduate."

Brother Salmon turned to mission experiences - being humble and not being pushy. About a year later, one of the crewmen came up to him and said: "We determined when we found out we were going to get a young graduate as a boss that we were going to sabotage everything. But one thing kind of messed everything up. You were so likable."

The crew became the best of six crews in Tucson.

Brother Salmon was later transferred to Salt Lake City, and while in Utah he went to night school at BYU. He transferred back to Arizona in 1986 just nine hours short of a master's degree in public administration, but was allowed to finish those credits at Arizona State.

While rearing his family in Mesa, Brother Salmon climbed the Mountain Bell - later named US West - ladder until he was community affairs manager. Going into politics was something he had never seriously considered. Then early in 1990 while driving to work one day he was listening to music from an LDS musical.

"I'm not an emotional person, but I just burst into tears," he said. "I had to pull off to the side of the road. The strongest impression came to me that I was not achieving my potential. I went home that night, and my wife and I hit our knees and we prayed. I made a decision that I was going to run for the state Senate.

"Right after I made my decision, I was offered the position of director of public relations for US West with a tremendous salary increase. When I said I was going to run for the state Senate, the head of the company pulled me into his office and told me I was crazy."

Brother Salmon stuck with his decision, however, and won his Senate seat. The trail seemed to naturally lead to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he will serve on the House committees on Science, Space and Technology; International Relations; and Small Business.

He expressed gratitude for the support of his family - especially the two leading ladies in his life. "My mom is responsible for making me what I am, and, in my estimation, my wife is a far better person than I am. She's a strong lady."

The congressman also expressed thankfulness for trials. "Nobody likes trials and tribulation, but thank heaven we have them because if not for them I don't know what kind of person I'd be. If everything came up roses, who knows if I would learn to depend on Heavenly Father."

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