Scott Howell is many things: a businessman, a Utah state senator, a husband, an Olympic planner, a member of an LDS Church ward bishopric.
He's a Democrat and he's an LDS Church member.Yes, he's been cornered at church, peppered with inquiries about his vote on a certain abortion bill. He gets the frequently asked question: "How do other Mormons treat you?"
It embarrasses him that people can't see beyond some pretty picture of what they think a "good Mormon" should be. You don't have to be a Republican to be a good member of the LDS Church, he says.
It's not always been this way. At various times in the state's history, members of the dominant faith and the rest of the state have drifted from hugely Republican to hugely Democrat and back.
Ray Briscoe, a historian and researcher, says it's in the best interest of the church and the state to have a balanced political system.
Thursday, Briscoe, Howell and others discussed whether that is feasible at a workshop at the Sunstone Symposium, an annual gathering on Mormon thought.
In February, the LDS Church's First Presidency issued a letter to members urging them to be more active in politics. Two months later, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a Democrat and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, spoke to a Salt Lake newspaper about the need for more parity in Utah politics.
Howell said those actions are great missionary tools for the expanding faith, which sent a message to the world about balance. Rob Bishop, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said when the book on the history of Utah politics is written, the interview with Elder Jensen will be a footnote at best.
"The idea that Utah is a one-party state is crap," Bishop said. Rather, he said, Utahns follow national trends. "No matter how you spin the (Elder) Jensen interview, it's not a big deal."
Bishop says the LDS Church doesn't create politics. Instead, he says, Utahns follow trends, becoming more Republican at a time when the rest of the nation was, too. They also don't care to align themselves with a party headed by President Clinton, who Bishop says has helped the Utah Republican Party "immensely."
Cheryl May, a University of Utah professor of politics, said she believes the church is concerned about the imbalance along party lines. That imbalance may not change quickly.
About 85 percent of active LDS Utahns associate themselves with the Republican party. And studies over the past decade have shown that the percentage of Utahns who are LDS has grown since the 1920s, May says.
She said there are risks when one party holds such power.
First, the minority party - in this case the Democrats - are hard pressed to keep the majority on its toes. And those who belong to the party can be ignored because the party knows their followers have nowhere else to go.
Power corrupts, Howell said, and that "insidious cancer" is happening in the dominant Utah Republican party.
The immense size of the Republican party is causing it to fracture, Briscoe said. He said 25 percent to 30 percent of the party are "right-wing loonies."
May said the pull from the ultra- conservatives leaves moderates and Democrats even more out of the cold as the Republican party fights to stay grounded somewhere in the middle.