Saturday, September 30, 2006


Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is an asset, not a liability, in 2008 presidential sweepstakes

(Published by The Salt Lake Tribune October 1, 2006)

A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that thirty-seven percent of those questioned would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. On the surface this might seem like very bad news for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney—a Mormon who is obviously preparing for a run at the presidency in 2008.

That would be true if participants in the poll were actually passing judgment on Mormon theology. I don’t believe that is the case at all. Though most Americans consider themselves Christian, few concern themselves with the intricacies of Christian theology. The vast majority could not accurately describe any difference between their personal Christian theology and the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. No, this poll isn’t about Mormon theology. It’s about the political views held by the vast majority of Mormons. And that’s actually very good news for Governor Romney.

How’s that?

Well, consider what the result would have been if the Los Angeles Times asked respondents if they would vote for a conservative Republican presidential candidate who thought abortion should be illegal and same-sex marriage banned. I’m willing to bet that around thirty-seven percent of respondents would never vote for such a candidate no matter what the religious affiliation of the candidate might be. It’s a safe bet because approximately thirty-seven percent of the voters in America are liberals who would rather move to Canada than support a conservative who is against abortion and same-sex marriage.

The pollster might as well have asked that question. Americans don’t know a lot about Mormon theology but they do know a lot about the political ideology of most Mormons. Nearly every voter in America recognizes that the state of Utah, with its overwhelming Mormon majority, is the reddest state of all. Most Americans also recognize that nationally known Mormon politicians are almost universally conservative Republicans like senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett. And, if they have Mormon friends, they have found most of them to be right of center on the political spectrum, especially with respect to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Think about it. Can you name any other religious denomination that is as cohesive and predictable in its political ideology as the Mormon community seems to be? For example, there are many Catholic and Protestant politicians on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, but try and name one Mormon exception to this brand image. Probably the only prominent Mormon Democrat who comes to mind is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Reid’s maverick status in the Democratic party actually strengthens the perception that all Mormon politicians are cut from the same cloth.

This Mormon political brand is an asset of considerable worth to Gov. Romney. His two primary competitors, Senator John McCain of Arizona and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, will spend a lot of time and money either trying to paper-over their relatively liberal histories on abortion and same-sex marriage, or trying to find a way to win the Republican nomination without the support of the predominant traditional-values wing of the party. In a Republican party dominated by social conservatives, describing the plight of McCain and Giuliani as “caught between a rock and a hard place” is an understatement.

Meanwhile, Romney can spend his time and money aiming a spotlight on his significant record of accomplishment in the business world, his role in saving the 2002 Winter Olympics and an impressive record of accomplishment as the conservative Republican governor of a very liberal Democratic state.

So, though it’s true that thirty-seven percent of Americans will not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, it’s also true that those same liberal voters would never have voted for Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Membership in that exclusive club is the goal of every Republican presidential candidate. That’s why the Mormon political brand Mitt Romney inherits is a real godsend to his likely presidential campaign.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Washington County Growth: Good Intentions Going Awry

(Published by the Salt Lake Tribune September 10, 2006)

For nearly twenty years I lived in one of the fastest growing suburbs of Los Angeles. Two years ago I retired and moved to Washington, Utah. I thought I was well prepared to deal with the projected population growth of Washington County because of my experience in southern California.

Boy was I wrong.

My surfer friends in California have developed a rating system to describe wave conditions. A really nice wave is “sweet.” A monster wave that is too big to safely surf is “insane.” I’ve come to the conclusion that the growth wave rolling over Washington County isn’t sweet. It’s insane.

In 2000 the population of Washington County was 90,000. Today, less than six years later, it exceeds 130,000. According to the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, the area is now growing at the average rate of 1,000 new residents per month. If current trends continue, the population will exceed 180,000 in 2010, packing double the number of people into the scenic southwestern desert of Utah in just ten years.

I have yet to meet a resident of the area who thinks such rapid growth is a good thing. Why would anyone think that replacing red rock beauty with ostentatious hillside mansions is a good thing? Who enjoys barely-moving bumper-to-bumper traffic on recently expanded roads that are five lanes wide instead of the two lanes that were sufficient just two years ago? And is the convenience of another strip mall of retail stores and fast food joints really more valuable than the sense of community and local culture it inevitably displaces?

It’s probably obvious to you that I haven’t met every resident of the area. Such growth could not occur unless many residents were rolling out the red carpet and inviting one and all to move to Washington County. I haven’t met them, but I do know who they are. The welcoming committee is headed by elected and appointed officials of the county and the cities within its boundaries. Major land owners, developers, builders and real estate agents round out the committee.

Why is this pro-growth coalition so enthusiastically and effectively trying to turn a desert oasis into a congested corridor of strip malls and suburban uniformity? A cynic who has experienced this kind of growth elsewhere might conclude that civic leaders are enriching themselves through participation in development and construction deals. That’s usually the case. But I don’t think it applies here. Oh, there are probably a few bad apples who have placed their own financial interests above the interests of the community as a whole, but not many. No, from what I can tell pro-growth advocates are good men and women trying to do what is right for the community.

Why do they think that rolling out the welcome mat instead of putting up the stop sign is a good thing for Washington County? I think there are two primary reasons.

First, to have thousands of people moving into the community is a vindication of sorts for those who have lived here for a long time. Let’s not forget that for decades St. George was considered nothing more than an inhospitable gas stop on the way to or from southern California. We all know how good it feels when the rest of the world finally comes around to something we figured out first.

Second, nobody wants to get in the way of a long-suffering resident’s opportunity to make a killing in the hyper-inflated real estate market. After many decades of barely getting by, how can local leaders block the path to instant prosperity for neighbors and friends? Especially when so many long-time residents have already participated in the boom.

You see, I think it’s accurate to say that those who favor growth in Washington County have their hearts in the right place. And therein lies the problem.

Growth in an oasis like the red rock country of southwestern Utah needs to be managed by tough minds, not soft hearts. Now that the word is out to retiring baby boomers all over the country, Washington County will not be able to soft-heartedly satisfy the demand without completely destroying everything that made it so attractive in the first place.

I’m sure the leadership of Washington County is tough minded enough to do what needs to be done. After all, they managed to eke out a living in a barren desert and turn it into an oasis now coveted by more people than can be accommodated. I hope they make the transition from heart to mind soon. Otherwise, good intentions are sure to go awry and this red rock haven will be lost forever.

That would truly be insane.

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