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Top Mormon leaders mostly Republican; two switch to unaffiliated

Published January 8, 2015 4:43 pm

One-party domination • Ex-Sen. Bob Bennett says it can lead to corruption, points to ''Brother Shurtleff and Bishop Swallow.''
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Brigham Young University student wanted Mitt Romney's reaction to the claim that Democrats can't be good Mormons.

"Baloney and ridiculous is my response to that," Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said recently, noting that high LDS leaders, even members of the governing First Presidency, are now or have been Democrats.

It's true that past LDS leaders have been Democrats, but if any current apostle is, he's keeping it to himself.



The Salt Lake Tribune reviewed the party affiliation of all 15 apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — including the three-member First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve — listed on their voting registration at the time of the 2014 midterm election. Nine are registered Republicans and the other six are unaffiliated.

LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson is a Republican. His top two counselors did not register with a party. Henry B. Eyring, the first counselor, switched his affiliation at some point in the past two years from Republican to unaffiliated. Second Counselor Dieter F. Uchtdorf switched from unaffiliated to Republican to vote in the 2012 primary election, but he has remained an unaffiliated voter since.

The Tribune checked the registration of the same 15 apostles after the 2012 presidential contest and found that at that time, 11 were Republicans and four didn't pick a party.

LDS Church spokesmen didn't respond to questions about why Eyring, along with Neil L. Andersen, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, decided to change their party affiliation. Dale Jones, a church spokesman, only said: "The church's views on political neutrality are well established."

In 2012, Scott Trotter, a church spokesman at the time, cautioned against reading too much into an apostle's registration status, saying just because someone registered as a Republican doesn't mean that voter always supports GOP candidates.

"Party affiliation does not necessarily indicate how an individual votes," he said.

All 15 apostles live in Salt Lake and Davis counties in northern Utah, and all of them voted in November's midterm election. Only five voted in June's primary election. Monson was among those primary voters, all of them registered Republicans.

In Utah, voters have to register Republican to vote in that party's primary. Some people, like Uchtdorf in 2012, will temporarily register as a Republican to participate in the primary and then revert their registration to unaffiliated or even Democratic. The Democratic Party has an open primary in which anyone, regardless of party affiliation can vote. None of the apostles changed his affiliation to vote in the 2014 primary.

The LDS Church encourages its members to vote, using statements read from the pulpit during Sunday services. It also emphasizes that "good can be found in the platforms of various political parties."

James E. Faust, a member of the First Presidency when he died in 2007, is the last apostle known to be a Democrat. He was elected to Utah's House as a Democrat in 1948 and served one term. He later led the Utah Democratic Party.

Faust, and Monson for that matter, grew up during a time when it was far more common for Mormons to be Democrats. But that changed during the past few decades as politics has focused increasingly on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, gender roles and race.

A book released earlier this year by three political scientists said that Mormons now represent one of the GOP's most cohesive blocs of voters.

In "Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics," co-authors David Campbell of Notre Dame University, John C. Green of the University of Akron and BYU's Quin Monson note research that shows 65 percent of Mormons say they are Republicans. Of those who say they are "very active" in the church, the percentage rises to 79 percent.

Sixty percent of the apostles are registered Republicans.

Despite the decidedly Republican leanings of LDS apostles, former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, doesn't believe Mormons take their political cues from their leaders.

"[The apostles] are so scrupulously neutral in any public statements," said Bennett, who is LDS. "They probably do not have any particular impact on how people vote."

He suggested that the political tilt of Mormons is part of a national trend, with studies showing that the more religious a person is, the more likely he or she is to be conservative politically.

Utah's Democrats have increased efforts to reach out to LDS voters, though they have yet to see their minority status in the state improved by that effort.

Crystal Young-Otterstrom, one of the founders of the Democrats' LDS Caucus, said in 2012 that the politics of the apostles probably does have some impact.

"Perhaps some of the reason we have become incredibly Republican is because we have had more Republican leaders in the last two or three decades," she said. "It would be great to have someone openly say they are a Democrat."

While no apostle is a known Democrat, there are prominent politicians who are both LDS and liberal, chief among them Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, believes that as the Republican Party has become more conservative in recent years, some moderate Mormon Republicans may consider voting for Democrats.

Bennett believes a stronger minority party would be a good thing for the state and even for the GOP. He said Utah's long one-party dominance has led to corruption. He pointed to the ongoing criminal case against former Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, both of whom are Mormon.

"You see what happens when you have a one-party mentality, eventually you have corruption. We staved it off for a long time, but Brother Shurtleff and Bishop Swallow gave it to us," Bennett said. "If there had been a viable Democrat running for the attorney general's office, that would keep the Republicans honest."

The apostles who are registered Republicans include Monson and Quorum of the Twelve members Boyd K. Packer, L. Tom Perry, Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks, M. Russell Ballard, Richard G. Scott, Robert D. Hales and Jeffrey R. Holland.

The unaffiliated apostles are Eyring and Uchtdorf, along with quorum members Andersen, David A. Bednar, Quentin L. Cook and D. Todd Christofferson.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham

 

 

 

 

 

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