James R. Matthews is an American politician from the state of Pennsylvania, and is a member of the Republican Party. He is a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, and was the unsuccessful 2006 Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania as Lynn Swann’s running mate.
Matthews graduated from La Salle College High School and attended College of the Holy Cross on a scholarship from the United States Navy. After serving in the Navy, Matthews entered the mortgage business and later earned an appointment as a mortgage lending officer with the Veterans Administration (VA) in Philadelphia. After leaving the VA, he returned to the private sector and later started his own mortgage business in 1990. Matthews is the brother of former MSNBC talk-show host Chris Matthews.
Matthews was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 1999 with District Attorney Michael Marino. In the 1999 primary election Matthews defeated Mario Mele, whom Republicans had accused of making a power sharing deal with the third commissioner, Democrat Joe Hoeffel, and supporting higher taxes in exchange for the commission chairmanship.
In 2003, Matthews ran with Tom Ellis for the county commission. Facing incumbent Ruth Damsker and Frank Custer, the pair won, but with a narrower margin, less than 10,000 votes, than Republicans were accustomed to.
Matthews courted some controversy in 2005 when he led an effort to ban cigarette smokers from working for the County. He and the commissioners reasoned that by outlawing smoking by County employees, they would be able to reduce health benefit costs. Later that year, the Commission retreated from that position, citing potential legal concerns. Montgomery County now offers anti-smoking aids to its employees as well as cash bonuses for those who stop smoking.
In 2006, he declared his candidacy for lieutenant governor. Lynn Swann endorsed him for the position and he subsequently won the May primary unopposed. In the fall general election however, Swann and Matthews were defeated by Democratic incumbent Ed Rendell, garnering only 39% of the vote.
In 2007, Matthews made a third, successful bid for the commission. Early in the campaign, Matthews and Ellis were opposed for the Republican nomination by State RepresentativeKate Harper, former Lower Merion School Board member Jill Govberg, District Attorney Bruce Castor and former State Representative Melissa Murphy Weber. The challengers charged that Matthews and Ellis could not keep the county government in GOP hands in the upcoming election. Matthews countered that he could indeed win given his experience in county government and his name recognition. Running on his own, Matthews narrowly captured the party endorsement finishing behind Castor.
Matthews and Castor faced off with Hoeffel, who sought to return to the commission after a stint in Congress, and incumbent Ruth Damsker in the general election. Matthews was attacked for support from Bob Asher and a lobbying contract awarded to party chairman Ken Davis. Matthews raised a campaign account separate from Castor and counterattacked Hoeffel and Damsker with charges that they would raise property taxes.
On election day, Castor, Hoeffel and Matthews were all nominated, with the latter edging the incumbent Ruth Damsker by just over 6000 votes. Matthews received the lowest vote tally of the three. Matthews was, until his arrest, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners following a power sharing agreement with, ironically, his fellow candidate Hoeffel. Matthews was formally censured by the Montgomery County Republican Committee (MCRC) on November 17, 2008 for his deal with Hoeffel, with the MCRC Chairman Robert Kerns declaring Matthews was “no longer a Republican”.