Republican Party leaders don't pander to LDS voters, telling them that their party reflects the values of the major faith in Utah.
But many voters do see similarities between values of the Republican party and the LDS Church and vote accordingly, says state GOP chairman Rob Bishop.His Democratic counterpart, state Democratic chairwoman Meg Holbrook, says the perception - "and it is perception, not reality" - that good Mormons are also good Republicans is not true. But the perception is still there, she says.
Bishop and Holbrook spoke Thursday at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics about the role of political parties in Utah today. And in answering a question posed by institute director Ted Wilson - a Democrat himself who just last weekend was eliminated as a candidate for the Utah Senate in the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention - touched on the sensitive issue of religion and politics.
Said Wilson: "In my (LDS Church) high priest quorum meeting (held several weeks before the political party mass meetings, now called caucuses) a brethren asked: `Where is our (party) caucus?' And someone named where the Republican caucus was.
"I said Democrats could come to my house (for the Democratic mass meeting) and many of the (men attending) laughed," Wilson said.
"So, is there a problem (with that assumption)?" joked Bishop.
Yes, said Wilson, because there is a general belief that the Republican Party is wedded to the LDS Church. "It is almost a cultural" connection between the two said Wilson, a former Salt Lake City mayor.
The feeling is "to be comfortable (in the community) - comfortable in the ward - you have to be a Republican," Wilson said.
Wilson then referred to a statement by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January asking church members to get involved in politics, vote and elect good people. The statement was nonpartisan.
Wilson added: "So when the Church said it was OK to be a Democrat, we just got a lot more Republicans to file for office" this year as candidates. In other words, the statement brought out many more Republicans than Democrats and didn't necessarily help level the political playing field.
Holbrook said the perception that Democrats aren't also good Mormons is false. "Many members of my (party's) executive committee are good, thoughtful members of the LDS Church," she said. "Four or five members of my executive committee are LDS bishops."
Holbrook added that on moral issues, the two political parties don't have many differences.
Where there are differences, she said, they're between what citizens want and what the "Republican-dominated" Legislature does. She gave as an example a Deseret News poll that showed nearly 90 percent of Utahns wanted lawmakers to ban concealed weapons from churches and schools. Yet Republicans in the Legislature refused to act on the measure.
Holbrook's example was a sideways slap at Bishop, who, while a teacher, works part time as a lobbyist and is the lobbyist for the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the main group that in the 1998 Legislature lobbied hard against Senate President Lane Beattie's bill that would have allowed churches and public schools to ban concealed weapons.
Bishop disagreed with Holbrook that Democratic candidates represent the views of mainstream Utahns - "they are far more liberal" than most people in the state.
Bishop said that while Utah has historically been a conservative state, voters were still split about down the middle between Republican and Democrat until the late 1960s and 1970s.
Then, Bishop said, the national Democratic Party abandoned the mainstream, becoming so liberal that "the Democrats got out of the stream, up on the left bank and waved as the majority of Utahns floated by."