SALT LAKE CITY - The quip illustrated the subtext of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s trip to meet with top leaders of the Mormon Church.
Napolitano had prepared a proclamation for church leaders declaring Oct. 4 to be "Family Home Evening" in Arizona, recognizing a traditional activity of Mormon families to spend Monday nights together.
During a breakfast meeting to start Napolitano’s visit, members of the governor’s delegations teased her about using the proclamation as leverage for dealing with some powerful Arizona Mormons in the Legislature.
"My guess (is) behind or on the other side of the proclamation is a request to send certain state lawmakers on a mission," said Leo Beus, a lawyer from Ahwatukee Foothills, referring to the church’s practice of sending members on two-year missions to often farflung locales.
"I hadn’t thought of that, but that’s an excellent suggestion," Napolitano said with a laugh.
Napolitano came to Salt Lake City seeking insights about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She left Friday night with new ideas on how she might work with a Legislature expected to grow more hostile to her next year. Victories in the Sept. 7 primaries make it likely conservative Republicans, including an East Valley delegation dominated by Mormons, will have firm control of the legislative process.
But the Democratic governor’s meetings with Mormon world leaders revealed the church’s core values — family and education, compassion and self-reliance, volunteerism and sacrifice — don’t have to clash with her policy agenda, she said.
"It is very consistent with the focus on children, with the focus on taking care of those who are homeless," Napolitano said. "Even the focus on self-reliance and helping those who don’t have jobs become self-reliant. All of that is very consistent with what we are trying to do at the state level."
The Tribune was the only media outlet to follow Napolitano throughout her visit Friday, and was excluded only from her 30-minute meeting with the Mormon president and prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley.
The governor’s trip followed in the footsteps of Arizona State University President Michael Crow, who traveled to Salt Lake City in February 2003 to meet with church leaders. Crow explored why Mormons attend ASU in far less numbers than their large Arizona population would suggest. Church officials explained the ASU image as a "party" school discourages mainstream Mormons.
Crow responded by setting aside 78 dorm rooms for students who promise in writing not to smoke, drink or have sex.
Mormons in Arizona have reacted warmly, Napolitano was told during her visit.
"We are now actively recruiting students for ASU," said Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, and a member of the delegation that accompanied Crow and Napolitano.
Some people also believe Crow’s visit played a role in the decision of another delegation member, homebuilder Ira Fulton, to donate $50 million for ASU’s engineering school in June 2003.
In one sense, Napolitano’s agenda in Salt Lake City was more modest. Her only formal request to church leaders was unspecified funding to help restore Brigham City, the first Mormon Arizona settlement in today’s Winslow.
But Napolitano’s broader policy efforts constantly were in the background as the governor explored key features of the Mormon Church.
When she toured Welfare Square, the heart of the church’s assistance efforts for ailing members, Napolitano said the Arizona’s welfare agency could learn from the church about teaching people how to help themselves recover from poverty and unemployment.
"Getting people off welfare rolls as quickly as possible, that’s really challenging," Napolitano said. "But clearly there are incentives you can place out there to make that happen."
When Napolitano ate lunch with three women who oversee the Mormon version of Sunday School education, the governor discovered Mormons never have wanted to establish private schools in the United States as other religions have.
"The church has always been very supportive of public education and having parents get involved," said Dale Bills, a church spokesman. "We’ve always considered that as a way to strengthen the community and to strengthen home and family."
Napolitano said she believes the church’s teachings can support well-funded public education from kindergarten through college, and a basic safety net for the poor.
"This has been a wonderful experience," Napolitano said. "Having a greater appreciation for (Mormon) traditions will be very helpful."
Mormons make up about 6 percent of Arizona’s population. But at least 15 of 90 state lawmakers, or 17 percent of the Legislature, are Mormons. They also hold many top leadership positions including:
• Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott
• Senate Republican Whip Marilyn Jarrett, R-Mesa
• Senate Democrat floor leader Jack Brown, D-St. Johns
• House Speaker Jake Flake, R-Snowflake
• House Republican floor leader Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert
• House Appropriations Committee chairman Russell Pearce, R-Mesa