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17 Mormons will serve in next Congress

Published November 16, 2012 1:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • When Arizona's Matt Salmon retakes his seat in Congress in January, he'll be one of 17 Mormons in the House and Senate, the most in more than a decade.

"It's really nice to have that kind of camaraderie, to know that there's that kind of commonality with values," Salmon said Thursday as he returned to Washington, where he previously served as a congressman. "It's very comforting to know when you're that far away from your home like we are, that you can always call on a fellow member to sit down and talk to them or ask them for a priesthood blessing."

While Mitt Romney, the most well-known LDS politician, lost his bid for the White House this year, Mormons fared well in congressional races.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will make up more than 3 percent of Congress come January, nearly double the faith's 1.7 percent proportion of the population nationwide.

There haven't been as many LDS adherents in Congress since 2000, when Salmon last served in the House. The congressman-elect, who was born in Salt Lake City and earned his master's degree at Brigham Young University, says it's positive for the faith to be so well-represented in the federal government.

And, Salmon adds, if they get together, "we know the same primary songs."

Mormons have averaged about 15 members in Congress during the past few sessions, with most serving on the Republican side.

The big exceptions are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevadan who is the highest-ranking elected official from his faith in the nation, and Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, also a Democrat.

It's a far cry from the early 1900s, when Congress refused to seat a Mormon elected by the Utah Legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate. Congress held three years of hearings on Sen. Reed Smoot — mostly focusing on the one-time Mormon practice of polygamy — before finally allowing Smoot to serve.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican and Latter-day Saint, says the number of Mormons in Congress is symbolic.

"It's representative of the fact the faith is expanding," Lee said, noting that Mormons feel a calling to be involved in their community and government.

"There is a fair amount of political diversity among us," Lee added. "Harry Reid and I are both Latter-day Saints, and yet, we don't always agree."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Mormon re-elected to his seventh term, says the net result of Mormons in public office is also helpful to the faith's reputation.

"You can't have 7 million people in the United States who are as active in their faith as Mormons are without people starting to say, 'Hey, they're for real,' " Hatch said. "They're really good people."

Next year's 17-strong coalition of Mormons includes American Samoa's nonvoting delegate, Eni Faleomavaega, all six of Utah's members of Congress, as well as members from Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

tburr@sltrib.com, mcanham@sltrib.com