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The bankers didn't take their defeat at the hands of credit union-backed congressional candidate Rob Bishop lying down.

Stung by the underdog's upset victory in last month's Republican primary over Kevin Garn, who is chairman of a local bank, the Utah Bankers Association struck back.

The state banking lobby bought full-page ads last weekend in the state's two largest newspapers, the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, scoring the credit unions' support for Bishop with a "time for the truth" campaign, in which they purported not to be opposed to credit unions, according to Travis Wood, chief lobbyist for the Utah CU League, which helped push Bishop over the top in the primary.

The bankers also used a mailing list of 20,000 credit union members, believed to have been purchased from a credit bureau, to explain their position on credit unions. In the letter the UBA claimed it is not opposed to all credit unions, just large, diversified credit unions, which they believe should be taxed.

Officials of the UBA would not return phone calls seeking comment.

In addition, last week former State Sen. Haven Barlow, a director of a local bank, sent a letter to state legislators who are grappling with a potential budget shortfall, calling on them to tax credit unions.

The new salvos by the bankers are just the latest in a decade-long war between credit unions and banks here, one of the most heated in the country. The war culminated three years ago when credit unions quickly pushed a major bill through the legislature to redress some of the field of membership (FOM) authority taken away from them in a bank-backed court challenge. Garn, as majority leader of the House, was one of the major impediments to the bill, prompting the credit union opposition in the congressional primary.

"We've seen what this guy's record is in the legislature. Why would we ever trust him in the Congress?" said Wood.

In contrast, Bishop, a school teacher and former Speaker of the House, lobbied for the Utah league to get the FOM bill passed.

An Unprecedented Campaign

Bishop's support encouraged an unprecedented campaign by the credit unions in his primary campaign, with 13 credit unions doing mailings, phone banks, and raising funds for his campaign. The credit union support helped Bishop score a 60-40 win over Garn.

But without the specter of a bank-backed opponent, it's not clear how involved credit unions will be in the general election, where Bishop will face Democrat David Thomas. The heavily Republican district had been represented for the past 22 years by Republican Jim Hansen, who is retiring this year. Wood said they will continue to support Bishop, but not to the extent they did in the primary. "I think we test our members' patience when we go to them for something that may not be as urgent," he said

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