September 21, 2004
Gov. Janet Napolitano has clashed often with powerful Mormon lawmakers during her first two years in office, but admits she doesn’t know much about the faith that motivates them.
Napolitano will seek insight into what guides those lawmakers and other Mormons when she travels Friday to the Salt Lake City home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the second-largest religious denomination in Arizona.
This is believed to be the first official visit of an Arizona governor to meet with top Mormon leaders, despite the church’s deep roots here. She will take a bipartisan delegation of Mormons, including the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, two lawmakers and two businessmen from the East Valley.
Napolitano said she sees the trip as a fact-finding outreach effort.
“In noodling around this summer about things I want to know more about and learn more about, I said I’d like to know more about the church and how it’s organized and what it is working on,” said Napolitano, who was raised a Methodist but attends a variety of worship services. “If I can have a closer connection with the leadership of the Mormon Church, which, after all, is a large part of our population, if I can learn better what they are doing, I think in the end it will make me a better governor.”
Mormons continue to wield political influence beyond their numbers in the state, holding a large percentage of seats in the Legislature and the body's top two leadership posts for the past two years. But delegation members said they don’t see the trip as a political venture by the Democratic governor, who frequently clashes with those Mormon lawmakers.
“She is a real class human being and she’s just got a lot of friends who are LDS, even though we don’t share a number of her views,” said Leo Beus, a Mormon lawyer who lives in Ahwatukee Foothills who will be on the trip. “Those kinds of relationships with any (religion), whether it’s Catholics or LDS or Baptists or whoever it is, when you are a governor and are trying to bring consensus to a lot of issues, I think she gets a lot out of that.”
But Napolitano’s delegation won’t include the Legislature’s most prominent Republican Mormons, such as Senate President Ken Bennett of Prescott or House Speaker Jake Flake of Snowflake. The trip was arranged by one of the governor’s policy advisers, Brent Brown, a brother to state Sen. Jack Brown, D-St. Johns, the only Mormon Democrat who also will be in the delegation.
Napolitano and three delegation members will meet with the current Mormon prophet and president, Gordon B. Hinckley. The governor also is scheduled to tour the public grounds of the Salt Lake City temple, the church’s massive distribution center for family assistance called Welfare Square, and the world-renowned genealogy center called the Family History Library.
Another delegation member, Mesa resident Roc Arnett, said Napolitano will discover the church has a strong interest, similar to hers, in early childhood education, even though Mormons generally believe that early education should be provided at home instead of in government-funded schools.
“The governor is keen on forwarding her agenda on early childhood development and she would like to get the church’s perspective, which has been very successful in areas of reading and music and education,” said Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership.
The Mormon Church estimates it has more than 331,000 members in the state. That’s second only to the Roman Catholic Church, which has an estimated 1 million worshippers in Arizona.
Mormons were among the state’s earliest white settlers, founding Mesa in 1878. The Arizona Mormon Temple, built in 1927 in downtown Mesa, is among the oldest outside Utah.
Napolitano also plans to squeeze some business issues into the trip. She will have lunch with an economic development group called Envision Utah and will discuss with Mormon leaders how to promote tourism at Brigham City, Arizona’s first Mormon settlement, located near Winslow, Brent Brown said.