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.