Where Will National Mormon Politicians Come From?

June 11, 2009 | 24 comments
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That may sound like the introduction to a bad joke, but I actually have a serious answer.Except for the rich and famous who manage to parachute into elections at the national level (think Jon Huntsman, Jr. and Mitt Romney), politicians often progress from local to state and then to national office. So if you want to know something about the possible national politicians in the future, you can get an idea from those serving at the state level.

So who are the Mormons serving at the state level?

Until last month I would have suggested that figuring how how many Mormons were serving in state legislatures was too much effort for the information. But last month the National Conference of State Legislatures indicated in their blog, The Thicket, that they had compiled a database with some of the information.

To compile the information, the group looked at the biographies on the websites for each state legislature, collecting what each legislator indicated about his or her religious affiliation.

Unfortunately, 43% of state legislators don’t indicate a religious affiliation, either because they don’t have one, or because they don’t see any advantage to indicating what it is. Unfortunately, several states that seem more likely to have LDS state legislators, including Utah, Arizona and Nevada, are among the least likely to indicate religious affiliation — less than 40% of their legislators indicate their affiliation.

Since they didn’t give all the information about Mormon legislators in their blog post, I asked for a breakdown by state.

Because of this lack of information in some cases, the numbers the NCSL reports should be taken only as a broad guide, instead of as complete information. Still, even with this limitation, the results are revealing. Here are the number of state legislators reporting that they are Mormon by state:

  • Utah  27
  • Idaho  24
  • Wyoming 11
  • Arizona  3
  • Montana  2
  • West Virginia  2
  • Alabama  1
  • Colorado  1
  • Connecticut  1
  • Kentucky  1
  • Nevada  1
  • New Mexico  1
  • Rhode Island  1
  • South Carolina  1

The total is 77, which apparently rounds to 1% of all state legislators (including those that indicated no religious affiliation). Despite the inaccuracy in the count, I can’t see the actual total as much more than double this number (which would jive with the nearly 2% of the U.S. population that is LDS).

Some of the above numbers are quite surprising. I’d love to know how West Virginia ended up with 2 Mormon legislators! Other states in the East like Alabama, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Kentucky and South Carolina are also interesting. Conversely, I have a hard time seeing how the numbers for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico could be anything but erroneous.

Please, if you know of state legislators in your state (outside of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming) who are LDS, especially if they don’t so indicate on their official biography, please comment and let us know!

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24 Responses to Where Will National Mormon Politicians Come From?

  1. queuno on June 11, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    I don’t know if there are any in Texas, but if there are, they probably don’t openly report it. Despite the strength of the Church in North Texas, San Antonio, or Houston, politically you need to be Baptist or Methodist in this state if you want to get elected to anything…

    (Or be Kinky Friedman. Oh wait, he doesn’t actually get elected…)

  2. Dan on June 11, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    What do you consider a “national Mormon politician?” One that has serious prominence in the world of politics? Because just looking at state Congressmen and Senators won’t tell you much about who might rise to prominence. Take Harry Reid for example. He’s currently the Senate Majority Leader but he’s not really “prominent” mostly out of his own lack of leadership in the Senate. He doesn’t stand out.

    Mitt Romney figured out how to stand out, by being a loud voice and pandering to this or that group. Romney’s main weakness, though, is that he is far too obvious in his attempts to pander. I commented on the other blog you had linked in the Notes section that there is one cringe worthy moment when Romney was meeting with some African Americans and he says “who let the dogs out? wooh wooh!”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDwwAaVmnf4

    Mitt Romney’s rise to national prominence is also attributable to the fact that he is not Utahn, at least not representative of Utah. He’s a Michigan boy who ran Massachusetts. If we are to see other prominent national Mormon figures, they will come, IMHO, from outside of Utah.

    Orin Hatch could not rise himself above the level of a Senator. The first reason is Utah. The second is that Hatch just doesn’t have the charisma that Romney and the rest of the national figures have. Plus he’s fairly right wing whereas Romney, well, he was moderate until 2006. (It’s ironic to see speeches he made back in 1992 attempting to portray himself to Massachusetts residents that he was to the LEFT of Ted Kennedy!). Nowadays, outside the hardcore right, most people don’t really care what Romney has to say, and that was very reflective in last year’s primary run. If we are to see a prominent Mormon national politician, he or she is going to have to be moderate. If he or she leans too hard to the right, that person will not be taken seriously by moderates and liberals. That person will also run into the problem Romney faced last year, which is that religious conservatives will be wary of that politician over his religion. By being moderate, by showing moderate views, that politician will show that people can trust that his or her religion is not going to interfere in decisions that would affect others outside his or her faith. By going too far left, people would question how strong his or her faith in his religion is, and that politician will not get far at all.

    Be moderate. It is the way to national prominence for a Mormon. And then when you get national recognition, do not follow Romney’s path by shifting hard right or hard left. That was Romney’s downfall in 2008. He shifted far right, rather obviously, and then lost out on all those moderates who would have voted for him, covering the losses he would have incurred from religious conservatives who did not vote for him mostly over his religious views.

  3. gst on June 11, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    None in California? But I thought we ran the state! Single-handedly rammed Prop 8 down everybody’s throat! But we can’t elect a single lousy legislator?

  4. Alex Valencic on June 11, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Dan (#2) what do you mean by “prominence”? I may assume that you are using the word in the sense of “standing out” but when it comes to leadership, the word is usually used to refer to those who are well-known, which seems to fit better in the context of prominent LDS politicians. In the latter sense, I cannot see how Harry Reid would not be considered one. Even if he is not a power-house of leadership, he is widely known, especially in the arena of American national politics.

    Incidentally, I am pretty certain that Illinois has not elected any Mormons to the state legislature. Of course, none of our legislators bios specifically mention religion, and I don’t have the energy to read through all of them to find hints of religious leanings (I did see that one was a former chairman of a Catholic Charities group, so I would assume that he is Catholic). It would be interesting to know if there are other Mormons hiding in our state governments.

  5. Kent Larsen on June 11, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Dan (2). You said prominent, not me.

    I could care less if they are prominent or not, nationally or in each state or even locally. I’m only interested in the fact that they are LDS or Mormon in some way, and how that influences their politics.

    I don’t expect all of these state legislators to go beyond the state level, but I do think that state level positions are a major source for who does make it to the national scene.

  6. Dan on June 12, 2009 at 5:19 am

    Kent,

    well that’s what I was trying to figure out, how you defined the “national Mormon politician” whether it was someone who was “prominent” like a Mitt Romney, or someone who would not get any higher than a Harry Reid.

  7. Kent Larsen on June 12, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Dan (6), the definition of “National Mormon politician” is simply a Mormon politician serving in any national office. So, all the Mormons serving in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, plus possibly those selected as political appointments in the Federal government.

  8. Nathan on June 12, 2009 at 8:11 am

    I work for the American Legislative Exchange Council in DC (related to NCSL) and work with state conservative legislators. Interesting find on the religious statistics. I don’t believe we track those.

  9. Dan on June 12, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Thanks Kent. I was going under an impression that you were sort of going on the similar point made by this post which you linked in the Notes

    http://mormonleft.blogspot.com/2009/06/whence-mormon-president.html

  10. Zack on June 12, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Okay, Dan, I’m just curious:

    How on earth is it possible to say the Senate Majority Leader is not prominent? Most people with political ambitions would not consider themselves failures if they do “not get any higher than a Harry Reid.”

    Kent, I’m not aware of any in Pennsylvania. But I would not be surprised if there are none. Someone in my ward once said Pennsylvania is the least Mormon state by percentage. I haven’t been able to verify this, but we’re at least among the lowest percentage LDS states.

  11. Dan on June 12, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Zack,

    Aside from political wonks and Mormons (and of course Nevadans), Harry Reid is not really known very well. Heck I didn’t know about him until he was close to being Senate Majority Leader!

  12. Kent Larsen on June 12, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Nathan (8), thanks for stopping by. I’m not surprised that your group doesn’t track religious information. It can be problematic, and, like any affiliation data, can lead to making bad assumptions (like “all Mormons are conservative”).

    I do need to emphasize again that the NCSL information isn’t complete — too many legislators don’t list their religion in their biography. I too am surprised that no California legislators indicate that they are Mormon, especially given that the state currently has 2 LDS Church members in the U.S. Congress.

    I assume that after the November elections legislators were asked to review/update their biographies on the official websites, so it is possible that some of them may have removed the religious information at that time, if it was ever there.

  13. John Miles on June 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

    There are actually more Mormons in the Nevada Legislature than your numbers show.

    Of the 21 State Senators, the active members are John Lee (D-Clark), and Warren Hardy (R-Clark).

    Of the 42 Assemblymen, the active members are are Moises Denis (D-Clark), Lynn D. Stewart (R-Clark), Joe Hardy (R – Clark), Chad Christensen (R-Clark), and Mellissa Woodbury (R-Clark).

  14. queuno on June 12, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Aside from political wonks and Mormons (and of course Nevadans), Harry Reid is not really known very well. Heck I didn’t know about him until he was close to being Senate Majority Leader!

    People I know who live in Argentina and Ireland knew who he was, and knew he was Mormon.

    I also have a Deseret Book-published book with testimonies of prominent Mormons that dates back several years (7-8) and features Harry Reid in the 7-8 Mormons in it.

    So to me, it’s interesting that (a) random European and Latin American friends would know of him and his religion and (b) the Church was featuring him.

    I’m also told by reliable sources that Church leaders in Europe made a big deal of touting Harry Reid’s ascension to SML, so that the Church could make the point that it wasn’t necessarily Republican.

  15. Chance on June 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    I’m sure Washington State has others, but Dan Roach, husband of Olympic weightlifter Melanie Roach, is LDS.

    http://www.dan-roach.com/

  16. revo on June 14, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Utah has 104 legislators counting both houses.

    I suspect that 70-85 of those are LDS whether active or not…maybe even more.

  17. Alison Moore Smith on June 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Dan, it’s not surprising that the “good democrat” would recommend a shift to the middle for any conservative politician. I happen to think that was the problem for the Republican party all around. And, actually, why I’m no longer a Republican.

    Oh, and also why I stopped supporting Hatch and Bennett some time ago. Their level of conservatism vs. moderation seems based solely on what elevates their careers and what they can get away with, instead of on principle. Their recent attempts at overcorrection have sent them tumbling into oncoming traffic. We got Cannon out. Hopefully those two will be next.

  18. lamonte on June 15, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Dan and Zack – regarding the difference in notariety between Harry Reid and Mitt Romney, try my crude and unscientific test. A google search of each – stating just their names with no other quantifier – gives Harry Reid 4,430,000 links to Mitt Romney’s 3,580,000 links which makes Harry Reid just under 24% more well-known than Mitt Romney. I’m open to more scientific research data. (smile)

  19. Dan on June 15, 2009 at 11:36 am

    lamonte,

    Try searching for them with their names in quotes. That search will result in more accurate results, as it will winnow out Prince Harry results, which I am sure skews the numbers. When you do a search for the two in quotes this is what you get

    “Harry Reid” – 2,600,000
    “Mitt Romney” – 3,600,000

    Looks like Mitt Romney is more known. ;)

  20. Dan on June 15, 2009 at 11:41 am

    now, in terms of something more scientific, try this

    The toughest question on the survey asked respondents to choose the current Senate majority leader from a list of four men. Fewer than one-in-four (24%) could identify Harry Reid as the Senate leader.

    He’s really not that well known.

  21. lamonte on June 15, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Dan – What’s wrong with “Prince Harry” links? What’s that saying, “The only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity”?

  22. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 15, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I noticed that the web site of Rory Reid, Senator Reid’s son, who is a Clark County Commissioner and potential candidate for governor, makes no reference to his church nor any other LDS related information, such as general discussions of church service, other than a degree from BYU.

    In states like Idaho, where there are lots of Mormons but not a majority, there are strong lumps of anti-Mormonism that can make any emphasis on LDS affiliation a net negative for a candidate. The perception there is that Larry Echohawk’s campaign for Idaho governor was severely harmed when he had a meet-and-greet fundraiser at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building during October General Conference. Even though it was a rented reception room, which is also used for wedding receptions and other events, the Republicans in Idaho portrayed it as a Mormon Church endorsement of Echohawk, revving up the anti-Mormons in Idaho to vote against him.

    The LDS members of the current Idaho congressional delegation (Simpson and Crapo) don’t go out of their way to highlight their church affiliation. I don’t even recall them making speaking appearances at BYU-Idaho during the last 8 years when I lived in Idaho Falls.

    There was an LDS member who was a US representative from Oklahoma, but his church affiliation was a target during his attempt to be elected governor.

  23. Dan on June 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    oh nothing at all with Prince Harry links, just that “the only worse thing than bad publicity is fake publicity.” :)

  24. Kent Larsen on June 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Raymond (22) you are right. This is a major reason why many politicians don’t mention it.

    I still stand by the estimate that among state legislators, we’re probably about 150–twice the number that the NCSL listed.