This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah Democratic Party has 15 caucuses within its tent, ranging from women, labor, educators, the LGBT community, African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders and Latinos to rural and veterans and military families.
Now comes another, perhaps unexpected in Republican- and Mormon-dominated Utah the LDS Dems Caucus.
Emboldened by the election of Jim Dabakis, who is gay, to the party chairmanship, a band of like-minded moderate and progressive Mormons decided they want "a room of our own," says Crystal Young-Otterstrom, the caucus's interim vice chairwoman.
"There have been many people for a long time who wanted to do something like this," she says. "We want to find the closeted Democrats out there."
At present, the caucus will focus on education, environmental issues, immigration and compassionate service to those in need, which is one of the LDS Church's four main purposes.
By way of introduction, the caucus is hosting a pre-LDS General Conference breakfast on Saturday at Murray Park, where Mormon Democratic elected officials will be cooking. The party's central committee is to vote Oct. 15 on the caucus' application.
In early Utah history and today, we've learned that LDS people, like anyone else, are not monolithic. Faithful Mormons, Democratic and Republican, have and do occupy political seats in the Utah Legislature, the U.S. Congress, federal and state governments and mayorships and city council seats.
Former governors Cal Rampton and Scott M. Matheson were LDS Democrats, as are Matheson's sons, one a sitting congressman, the other a federal appeals court judge. Still, the last presidential election when Utah leaned Democrat was in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was elected. The Utah Legislature remains overwhelmingly Republican, and many members in both parties are LDS.
And Mormons here and in California rose up against Proposition 8, that state's legally embattled state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which is opposed by LDS leadership.
"The party is really intent on including active LDS people. It's the right thing to do; it's what Democrats believe in diversity and different ideas. And the best ones float to the top," Dabakis says.
Before, he adds, "Democrats may have missed the opportunity. We need energy, spirit, enthusiasm and votes."
That's not to say it'll be easy to win elections, given how few active Latter-day Saints self-identify as Democrats, Dabakis says. Thus the caucus.
"We're the party of inclusion," he says. "We want to win elections, make sure we have that perspective in our big tent."
For Ben McAdams, a state senator and interim chairman, the caucus has a twofold mission: To let LDS Democrats get to know each other, and to reach out to more moderate people and let them know they are welcome.
"It's likely you'll find a spectrum of viewpoints among the LDS as any group, with very strong thoughts on both sides of issues," he says. "We're trying to focus on the things that unite us the Democratic platform and the LDS faith."
It may well be true that, as Dabakis says, LDS Democrats are emerging, not only because of the strength of tea party adherents in state and national politics, but also because the LDS Church leadership has long maintained its nonpartisan posture.
Whatever the reasons, having a solid cohort of LDS Democrats will do Utah a lot of good. In a time of partisan pandering and a noxious national political environment, we need all the diversity we can get.
For more information, go to ldsdems.org/join.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and facebook/pegmcentee.