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Jim Matheson

WASHINGTON — They are not large in number, but the Mormon Democratic Congressional Caucus is determined to dispel the perception that the words "Mormon" and "Democrat" cannot be used to describe the same person.

Under the direction of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Nevada, three of four members of the caucus met earlier this week to discuss issues relevant to the LDS community and to discuss how to raise the profile of Mormon Democrats.

Joining in the meeting were Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, a nonvoting member of Congress from American Samoa, was not able to attend but plans to participate in the future.

"Legislation is the art of compromise, and a strong two-party system is fundamental to our democracy," said Reid, who as leader of all Senate Democrats is the highest-ranking LDS member of Congress. "I believe strongly that Democrats have many of the same issues at heart as do membership of the church."

That is a tough sell in Utah where Republicans turned out in droves, giving President Bush his largest margin of victory of any state.

But even Republican redistricting could not dislodge Matheson, the son of the popular former governor and who is now serving his third term.

"As Mormon Democrats, we share a strong sense of duty to family and community," Matheson said. "I think it is a good thing when we can bring our voices to the discussion of many issues that affect the safety, prosperity and quality of life here in the West. I hope folks in both parties take note of that perspective."

Members of the caucus say it is a fundamental premise of democracy to have a two-party system where issues can be debated freely. And it is important that LDS views be represented on both sides.

"The Founding Fathers intentionally created the Congress to be a place for meaningful debate," Reid said. "For example, as a party, we believe it is our moral responsibility to care for the less fortunate and for one another."

Reid also sounded a note certain to resonate with fiscally conservative Utahns.

"We need to live within our means as a country and rein in the federal spending that has skyrocketed in recent years," he said.

Udall said he looks forward to bringing a new voice to policy debates.

"As members of Congress from the West, we are committed to establishing federal policies that build strong, sustainable rural communities; ensure access to affordable health care; and develop natural resource and energy programs that protect water and our environment," he said.

Faleomavaega, who campaigns for re-election partly in Utah because of the large number of American Samoan expatriates living there, is thrilled that a member of the LDS Church is leading Senate Democrats and that maybe he can change the perception that church members are inherently thought of as Republicans.

"Like Senator Reid, I believe the LDS Church needs representation in both the Democratic and Republican parties," he said. "For too long there has been a misconception that LDS Democrats and Republicans do not share the same values. But this is not true. Our values are the same, but our political philosophies are different."

Members of the caucus said political differences should not fall along religious lines. Democrats, they said, support working people and have a difference of opinion from Republicans on health care, education, environment, taxes and international relations.

"However, at the end of the day, whether Democrat or Republican, our LDS values remain the same and this is why the LDS Church, as a matter of official policy, does not support one political party over the other," Faleomavaega said.