Mormon leader on Democrat's possible running mate list
Advisers to Peter Cooke have forwarded the Democratic gubernatorial candidate a short wish list of potential candidates for lieutenant governor that includes retiring LDS general authority Marlin Jensen.
Cooke has not met with any of the half-dozen on the list or offered anyone the spot on the ticket, but the campaign hopes to begin holding meetings this week with potential running mates.
"We're having great discussions, and I'll have a decision here before the [April 21 state Democratic] convention," Cooke said Monday. "I'm looking for people who are qualified, able to make decisions, come with a lot of experience, and I'm looking for a cross-section of the state."
The short list was prepared by a panel of Cooke's top political advisers, who met late last week, according to a source close to the campaign who was not authorized to speak publicly about the list.
The wish list consists of six names:
• Marlin Jensen, who is due to be released from his full-time post on the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy later this year.
• Karen Morgan, state senator from Cottonwood Heights, who considered running for governor herself.
• Christian Gardner, a major Utah developer and son of prominent real estate developer Kem Gardner.
• Douglas Owens, an attorney and son of late U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens.
• Vince Rampton, an attorney and son of late three-term Utah Gov. Calvin L. Rampton.
• Michael T. Benson, president of Southern Utah University and grandson of former LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson.
Cooke would not discuss any specific names, saying he prefers to handle the vetting confidentially.
"One of the things you very clearly see here is well known Utah political names, Rampton and Owens," said Matthew Burbank, a political scientist at the University of Utah. "One of the themes there is kind of trying to raise the visibility of the Democratic ticket by having names that are reasonably well known to people who follow politics."
Burbank sees including Jensen on the list as an overture to Mormon voters, "because that is clearly a constituency that the Democrats would like to see vote Democrat."
Jensen, who has visibly supported the Democratic Party through the years, has been released from his role as LDS Church historian. He turns 70 in May and is expected to become an emeritus general authority in October. Church policy bars general authorities from participating in partisan politics.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said he could not comment on the issue, since church leaders took Monday off after the weekend's General Conference.
Owens, who is an attorney at the firm Holland & Hart, said he hasn't talked to anyone from the campaign but "would be flattered if they thought about me."
"I'd sure take the phone call," he said, but added he doesn't bring any kind of constituency to the ticket. "It just seems wildly improbable."
In 2010, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon reached across the aisle and selected former Republican Rep. Sheryl Allen as his running mate. They were trounced by Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.