Along with recent revelations that Mitt Romney tithed more than $4 million to the LDS Church over the past two years, we learn that the church will hold off hosting lawmakers at its traditional pre-session "thank you" lunch. ---
Lawmakers from both parties defend the church's hosting of the gathering, saying the church is a constituent like any other. Utah's 75 state representatives and 29 state senators, especially the non-LDS members, no doubt found the meeting helpful in knowing if and when the church was amenable to certain types of legislation.
But this year, the church is stepping back, suggesting a "thank you" lunch is better after the session than before.
Such restraint is laudable but obviously in deference to Mitt Romney's quest for the presidency. As his stars align for his bid for Republican presidential nominee, they shed more light nationally on how the LDS Church calls the political shots in Utah.
The church's meddling in Utah politics has long been accepted as the norm. In 2011, after the Legislature passed a bill restricting the number of available liquor licenses and outlawed drink specials in bars, the Utah Hospitality Association filed a lawsuit. State attorneys are fighting the suit, arguing that the LDS Church is entitled to weigh in on legislative liquor regulation.
A Jan. 22 Salt Lake Tribune article quotes Ken Wynn, a former director of the state's liquor agency and current spokesman for the hospitality group, as saying, “In my 30 years of experience, I have firsthand knowledge that the LDS Church has influenced every piece of liquor legislation that the state has adopted over the past three decades.”
Beyond Utah, the church's involvement in helping ensure passage of California's Prop 8, the 2008 California measure that banned gay marriage, is further proof the church can become a well-oiled political machine when it needs to be.
Any Mormon hoping to be a viable presidential candidate will have to convince American voters that the LDS Church will not be calling the shots in Washington, D.C. Based on the what's gone on in Utah, that will be a hard sell.
Not only is it hard to imagine the church resisting the urge to "thank" a full-tithing member like Mitt Romney were he to become the nation's chief executive. He will be expected to "thank" them right back.