I’ve written before about how relatively quiet the Utah Legislature’s 2012 general session has been so far – now a little more than halfway through.
There are, I believe, several reasons for this – all 75 House members and half of the Senate are up for re-election this year and in newly redrawn districts that contain many voters who will be new to them.
There is an extra $400 million to spend, so budgets won’t be cut, state employees, college professors and public education teachers will get a small raise, the first in years.
The conservative Tea Party movement seems to have peaked in Utah, letting some GOP incumbents breathe a little easier and not worry so much about the ultra-rightwing of their party.
But I see another reason, as well.
LDS Church leaders and Mormon politicians don’t want Utah to be in local or national headlines for doing crazy stuff.
The church, outlawed in its early days and made fun of today -- even seen as a cult by a few major religions -- is on the verge of becoming recognized and accepted as never before – if only Mitt Romney can be elected U.S. president.
The church is still paying for the public relations disaster of Proposition 8 in California. The Mormon Church was not the only religion to support outlawing gay marriage in that state, but it was the church that has been lambasted, criticized and singled out.
If Romney, a faithful Mormon who has held the lay leadership positions of bishop and stake president, can win the GOP nomination, that alone is a great achievement in the acceptance of the LDS religion.
If he becomes president, out the window go many of the prejudices of 175 years against the LDS faithful.
Accept a good Mormon as president, and what’s been called America’s unique religion is accepted as well.
LDS Church leaders don’t want to do anything themselves, and they don’t want LDS Utah political leaders, to do anything to openly harm Romney’s chances.
That doesn’t mean the church will publicly endorse Romney. It won’t, I believe, since they’ve stayed out of partisan politics since the 1930s when they opposed the re-election of Franklin Roosevelt only to see him carry Utah by a huge majority.
The media and public spotlight will shine on the LDS Church (even more so than currently) if Romney becomes the GOP nominee.
And that light will reflect down on Utah and its own politics and LDS politicians.
Utah got rave reviews for the 2002 Winter Olympics. But that was a sporting event.
Romney’s presidential campaign is very different.
And LDS Church leaders are being very careful.
Church leaders have, for decades, held two luncheons before each general legislative session, one with GOP leaders, one with Democratic leaders, where issues were generally discussed and relationships renewed.
The church cancelled those meetings just before the 2012 session began, saying if needed they would be held after the session adjourns March 8.
Just one example of what I’m talking about: Immigration.
Utahns and the Legislature, with the LDS Church leaders agreeing, led out in 2011 illegal immigration laws.
Now some GOP lawmakers are trying to repeal last year’s HB116, the guest worker program.
Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, angrily spoke out this week in a Provo Herald story criticizing GOP legislative leaders for not moving his reform of HB116 ahead.
But Herrod is gone, running for the U.S. Senate this year.
The House refused to let Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, open a new bill on immigration. But Sandstrom is gone, running for the U.S. House this year.
Sen. Steve Urquhart’s bill to just repeal HB116 was tabled in a Senate committee in a unanimous vote Thursday morning, with Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, making the tabling motion.
It’s rare that a GOP leader makes a motion to table a GOP colleague’s bill in a committee – and now it would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate as a whole to lift that bill for further consideration.
“I don’t think the LDS Church got involved in my bill,” Urquhart told UtahPolicy. “That’s because they didn’t have to. I walked into a woodchipper today. But all the churches in Utah have been strong (on the Utah Compact and) on immigration issues.”
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, says there is not a lot of interest among House Republicans to deal with illegal immigration this session.
As one House Republican put it: “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
Ron Mortensen, a Tea Party and anti-illegal immigration leader, says his folks have no plans to demonstrate on Capitol Hill this year.
In previous statements on immigration, LDS Church leaders have said if need be, they will say more on the subject.
All of what is happening on Capitol Hill leads me to view this as a reflection of an interesting Bernick family incident.
I have four wonderful little cousins, two sweet boys in one family, two hell-raising, beautiful girls in another.
At a recent get-together, after one of the little girls kept bugging one of her male cousins, both around five years old. The boy got frustrated and said: “Don’t make me hit you.”
LDS Church leaders are quietly telling Utah legislators in general, and especially on immigration matters: “Don’t make me hit you.”
My feisty little girl cousin got the message and suddenly became very quiet.
And it looks to me like Utah legislators are listening, too.