The LDS Church’s top leaders are telling their Utah congregations, in stronger-than-usual language, to cancel meetings when parties hold their caucuses next month and strongly encouraging Mormons to attend those political gatherings instead.
Read the letter
To read the letter from the LDS Church First Presidency, go to http://scr.bi/wm3typ
Critics of the caucus system praised the move, saying it may help prevent extreme groups from controlling parties —which can happen when only activists attend the neighborhood meetings that select convention delegates. Democrats also applaud the church’s statement for wording they say reinforces that faithful Mormons can belong to their party.
"Precinct caucuses are the most fundamental grass-roots level of political involvement," says the letter from the church’s governing First Presidency. "They are best served by a broad representation of Utah citizens."
Dated last Thursday, to be read in LDS worship services in Utah, the letter asks that no evening meetings be held March 13 — when Democrats hold their caucuses — and March 15 — when Republicans and the Constitution Party hold theirs.
"We are concerned with the decreasing attendance at the caucus meetings in Utah in recent years," the letter adds. "We therefore ask that local leaders not schedule meetings on these Tuesday and Thursday evenings so that members may attend a caucus meeting of their choice."
The letter is more direct than in the past. LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said that at least since 1998, local LDS leaders were asked to arrange meeting schedules "in such a way that adult members may also participate in these important meetings." When caucuses were scheduled on a Monday in 2002, the Utah-based faith asked families to reschedule Family Home Evenings they normally hold then to attend caucuses.
"It is a very significant step by the LDS Church," said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.
Jowers has been part of the Alliance for Good Government — which includes former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt — that is seeking reforms of the caucus system. The group worries that strident partisans have taken over the delegate system and driven down voter turnout by selecting candidates who are more to the left or right of mainstream Utahns.
For example, the caucus system resulted in convention delegates defeating former Sen. Bob Bennett and Gov. Olene Walker, both of whom were popular with the general public but not conservative enough for GOP activists. It also brought a primary fight for Rep. Jim Matheson, who Democratic delegates felt was not liberal enough.
"The more people who participate, the better," Jowers said. "Our government is built on ‘we the people,’ not ‘we the angry few.’ The more people who can attend from whatever demographics, Republican or Democrat, the more representative our government will be."Next Page >
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