Rolly: LDS legislators bend to tough master
The hardcore right wing of the Republican Party in Utah has walked a delicate tightrope throughout the immigration reform debate since most of its members are adherents to the Mormon faith. They believe in following the advice of church leaders but also are tethered to the sometimes contrary counsel of conservative fundamentalist Phyllis Schlafly.
Schlafly is the national founder of the conservative values-based Eagle Forum, whose Utah chapter is ruled with the iron hand of Gayle Ruzicka, a master grass-roots political strategist who literally can strike fear in Republican legislators who want to serve beyond their current term.
So, considering that Schlafly is the guiding force of Ruzicka's political endeavors in Utah, her recent rhetoric explains why the tea party wing of the party is so averse to showing any leniency to those immigrants in the country illegally, and are so opposed to a pathway to citizenship or even a guest-worker program.
LDS Church leaders have expressed their admiration for the Utah Compact, with its strict enforcement of immigration laws but also compassion and the priority of keeping families together.
But local political leaders who have endorsed the compact's encouragement to immigrants to come out of the shadows have faced angry opposition from the right. Sen. Curt Bramble's re-election campaign last year was opposed by many of his fellow Utah County Republicans, who tried to defeat him for his support of a guest-worker program.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart faced similar hostility after she supported the same thing. Delegates to the party's state convention and to the Salt Lake and Utah county conventions passed resolutions urging the Legislature to repeal the guest-worker law it had already passed.
Yet, they treat gingerly the hand of compassion their church beloved LDS Church has extended to the undocumented.
Some say the church's stand is misunderstood. Some claim the actual leaders of the church are being misquoted.
The pull they feel from the other side of the church's position is from right-wing leaders like Schlafley, which might explain why most in Utah's congressional delegation and many in the Legislature oppose any compromise, despite allegiance to their church.
Ruzicka, a loyal Schlafly soldier, has shown that she has the power within the Utah Republican establishment to make or break political careers.
And Schlafly has made it clear she does not agree with Republican leaders who say the party must soften its hard-line approach on immigration in order to win back a reasonable percentage of Latino voters and thereby remain competitive in future presidential campaigns.
In interviews on radio programs with a Christian values theme, Schlafly has shown utter disdain for Latinos, claiming they come from countries that do not believe in limited government, do not understand the Bill of Rights and do not share Republican values.
Last week, in an interview with the conservative radio program "The Clay and Marty Show," Schlafly spewed unabashedly racial rhetoric.
"The people that Republicans ought to reach out to are the white voters," she said. She added that Latino voters will never vote Republican because they "don't have Republican inclinations at all. They're running an illegitimacy rate that's just about the same as the blacks are."
This is the grip that grasps the throats of many Republican policy makers in Utah today.