He's Back: Draper Rep. LaVar Christensen
Rep. LaVar Christensen was born in Southern California but he's quick to point out: "You don't get a name like 'LaVar,' without some serious Utah roots."
Christensen, R-Draper, who returned this year to the Utah Legislature after his unsuccessful 2006 run at Rep. Jim Matheson's congressional seat, has already had a turn in the media spotlight this year.
He's gotten attention for a bill seeking to establish the traditional family as "optimum," under Utah law and, as the bill says, "consistent with the Laws of Nature and Nature's God, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the World." While he's felt the sting of backlash over these and other bills, he said many people don't understand the legislative process. The introduction of bills is just the starting point to a longer process one he says should include an open, engaging discussion between divergent parties that can lead to understanding and compromise.
Upbringing • The child of parents who married after being Provo High School sweethearts, Christensen was reared in Upland, Calif., tucked away in the populated corner of vast San Bernardino County, less than 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles. He grew up loving sports, during a time when neighborhood baseball games required only a vacant lot, a scruffed-up hardball, makeshift bases and a Louisville slugger. No screaming parents, no leagues, no team pictures, no city sports complexes, no umpires.
It was "The Sandlot" not "The Bad News Bears."
And Christensen's DNA has a good dose of athleticism. A nephew is former Major Leaguer McKay Christensen, who famously turned down a $1 million signing bonus for an LDS mission to Japan.
In high school, LaVar Christensen played for teams that won Southern California championships and even for one that went undefeated. He even got to go to bat against future Hall-of-Famers Gary Carter and George Brett.
He remembers that once during a game against Brett, a teammate remarked, "That Brett kid sure thinks he's good."
But, from an early age, Christensen had another side, too. Sandwiched between a steady sports diet, he would often ride his bike to the library, where his favorite subject was the early history of the nation.
"I thrilled to the stories of America's founding," he says.
At age 10, he announced at the dinner table he planned to become an attorney, inspired by his boyhood heroes Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry and Abraham Lincoln. And like them, he hoped to enter the public arena to make a difference.
Politics • Politics also run in his blood. A great-great-grandfather served in the first Utah Legislature. His father became the mayor of Upland, and then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan once encouraged the elder Christensen to run for the California Legislature, a race he lost.
In his office, Christensen still keeps a photo of his father arm-in-arm with Reagan.
Christensen's biggest political splash to date was his leadership in passing the 2004 Utah constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
He still believes the greatest threat to American society is what he describes as the "new morality, moral relativism and secularism." And he's determined to reverse the trend, with the help of a raft of bills he's introduced this legislative session. These include:
• HB270, declaring the "traditional family" based on the marriage of a man and a woman, as the "optimum environment" to raise children.
• HB109, The Religious Liberty Act, says no one can be required to act contrary to sincerely held religious beliefs, principles or freedom of conscience.
* And HB182 states that "an arrangement, agreement or transaction that is unlawful or violates public policy is void and unenforceable."
Consequences • James Humphreys, a self-described conservative Republican strategist and gay activist, warns Christensen's bills would have "massive unintended consequences," and despite Christensen's denials said they are clearly and specifically aimed at the gay community.
"He's a brilliant man and a very good attorney," Humphreys said, "But I just don't get why he's so wrapped up in targeting gays."
Humphreys predicts that none of these bills will pass.
Christensen says he'll be gratified if his bills serve to start a dialogue that continues beyond the legislative session. And he points out that he's sponsoring more practical legislation as well, such as a bill he hopes to soon introduce to help homeowners get relief from burdensome mortgages.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes may be Christensen's closest friend in the Legislature. They were seatmates in the freshman class of 2002, both representing the first two districts Draper could call its own.
"LaVar is one of the most intelligent people I've ever met," Hughes said. "He's a big thinker." But he adds, "The process LaVar is in, is a refiner's fire."
Christensen's approach will have to be a gradual one, Hughes says, where over time and with lots of discussion, he "brings others along."
Age • 57
Family • Wife, Susan, two sons, one daughter, four grandchildren
Profession • Attorney, family-owned real estate development company
Political history • Utah House, 2003-2006 and 2011-, Republican nominee for 2nd Congressional District 2006