Lame Ducks and the Las Vegas Temple

During the April 1984 General Conference, a temple for Las Vegas was announced. Planning and preparation for the temple acquired a particular urgency in November of that year. Jay Bingham and Paul Christensen, both Latter-day Saints, had been elected to the Clark County Commission and would take office in January. Bruce Woodbury and Karen Hayes were already two of that body’s seven members, and so from 1985 until 1995, Latter-day Saints would be a majority on southern Nevada’s most important governing council.

Both proponents and opponents of the temple preferred to have zoning for the temple decided before Bingham and Christensen would take office, and so hearings took place in late December, first before the planning and zoning board, and then before the County Commission. Opponents were almost all neighbors of the temple-to-be who were worried about change, but the fit of the proposed use and the location was rather ideal, and approval was unanimous.

Those proceedings come to mind now, twenty-two years later, as another Latter-day Saint from Nevada becomes U.S. Senate Majority Leader. Many find it strange that the most prominent Latter-day Saint in politics would be a Democrat, but they are dealing with limited information. Some states are Republican–Wyoming and Alaska, for example. Some, such as Maryland and Hawaii, are Democratic. Utah, a state that is majority Mormon, is a Republican state. That is interesting, but it is also easy to make too much of it. A fuller view of things can come from looking at places where Latter-day Saints exist in significant but not overwhelming numbers and where both political parties are competitive, places like Nevada. Looking at Nevada, a political bias by Latter-day Saints against Democrats is hard to find.

Take Harry Reid, U.S. Senator from Nevada. Brother Reid is the third Latter-day Saint to represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate. The two before him were also Democrats. Brother Reid’s first campaign for statewide office was the 1970 lieutenant governor’s race; his opponent in the general election was Bob Broadbent, also a member of the Church. Another Mormon vs. Mormon contest for lieutenant governor would follow in 1978 between Myron Leavitt and Devoe Heaton.

Of the four county commissioners mentioned in the first paragraph above, three were Democrats. Currently, three Latter-day Saints are on the commission; two are Republicans, and one is a Democrat. The mayor of Henderson, Nevada’s second largest city, is James B. Gibson, a Democrat and Latter-day Saint, and the son of the late James I. Gibson, who was state senate majority leader. Also in Henderson, on the city council, is Andy Hafen. His daughter, Tessa Hafen, was Harry Reid’s press secretary until last spring when she became the Democrats’ candidate for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. She ran a good campaign, losing to incumbent Jon Porter by 4,000 votes, but managing to marry in the Las Vegas Temple in middle of her campaign.

Mormons also can be found among Clark County’s scoundrel politicians. Lance Malone, a returned missionary and Republican on the County Commission from 1997 until 2001, and Dario Herrera, a Democrat on the County Commission from 1999 to 2003 who joined the Church during his unsuccessful 2002 race for Congress, have both been convicted of felonies involving bribes to Herrera from a San Diego strip club owner that Malone lobbied for.

Where I come from, Mormon Democrats seem to do just fine.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

7 thoughts on “Lame Ducks and the Las Vegas Temple

  1. It reminds me of a police officer I talked to. Obviously as a cop in Utah the vast majority of the people he arrests are Mormons and lots have temple recommends. He told me the worst thing you can do to a cop is flash the “orthodox Mormon” card to him because he thinks its worthless in establishing anything. It just makes him angry.

    It does seem to me thought that Nevada politics has had a long history of corruption. No doubt in large part due to the money and corruption tied to gaming boards. It is sad that far too much of that corruption came from Mormons who, before the rise of Las Vegas as a mafia town, were the majority in much of the state.

    The corruption I read about in Arizona from prominent members is also terribly sad.

    I think it important for Mormons to play both sides of the political fence. For two reasons. One, our system depends upon having a real opposition and a real choice. While I’m pretty much a solid Republican, situations like we have in Utah with such Republican domination make me nervous. It makes the system easier to subvert by the powerful and unethical. And even those “with the best of intentions” can not adequately reflect the public.

  2. I often see news stories saying “Mormons are 95 percent Republican.” I’m much more inclined to say it is around 80 percent or so, depending on the situation. In local politics, party affiliation is not as important as competence and effectiveness in tackling specific issues. This is why overwhelmingly Democratic New York City has had a recent string of Republican mayors.

  3. Clark,

    To whom are you referring when you say:

    “The corruption I read about in Arizona from prominent members is also terribly sad.”

  4. Evan Mecham. He may not have been a crook, but the gray matter between his ears had obviously been corrupted by some intelligence killing virus.

  5. I wanted to relay some of what I have gathered about the Gibson family. I was Comps on my mission with Jim Gibson’s Nephew DS Gibson jr and am still in contact with him. This is an impressive family with impeccable LDS credentials. My comp was a stellar missionary who pretty much knew what he was doing in the mission field.

    My Comp says that his uncle and his grandfather (deceased) are old school New Deal Democrats. IE liberal economics pro union etc and conservative on the hot button social issues. He also claims that Reid is from the same vein of LDS Nevada dems.

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