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Posted 20 Jun 2001   For week ended June 15, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 20Jun01

By Paul Carter

Harry Reid is Key Influence in the New Balance of Power

WASHINGTON, DC -- As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah was likely the most influential and powerful political figure who was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Until two weeks ago. Now, with the Democratic Party in control of the Senate, Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada moves into the spotlight as the most influential church member in politics.

The quick succession of events which brought Harry Reid to this point is remarkable. And yet the recent events have occurred against a backdrop of challenging political career spanning over two decades.

In the recent events, to a great extent, it was Senator Reid's encouragement that helped smooth the way for Senator Jim Jeffords to feel comfortable in his decision to begin caucusing with the Democrats and changing party affiliation from Republican to Independent. And in an institution where positions of Chairman wield massive amounts of power, Harry Reid solidified his importance to his party by offering his own chance to be Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee to Senator Jeffords. Apparently, there were no other Democrats in line for Chairmanships who seriously considered such an altruistic offer.

Senator Reid is now the Majority Whip of the Senate and considered the number two senator in party responsibility. As Whip, he is responsible for lining up votes on Senate issues and encouraging Democrats to vote according to Party dictates. By his yielding his opportunity of a committee chairmanship to Senator Jeffords, in effect every committee chairman today is "beholden" to Senator Reid for his position--an extremely powerful position to find himself in.

Speaking about the Chairmanship being offered to Senator Jeffords, his friend, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd has stated emphatically, "Jim did not ask for this. He did not negotiate for this. Harry Reid, to his great credit, offered him his committee, the Environment Committee. But this was not a question of a tit for tat as one might normally think."

Harry Reid is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At age 61, he has served according to the report in the Salt Lake Tribune as an "elders quorum president, high councilor and Sunday school superintendent." He joined the church in 1960 while a student at Utah State University. His wife, who is Jewish, later also joined the Church and they have raised their children as active members.

Two weekends ago, when the buzz in Washington DC about the change of power in the Senate was at its peak, Senator Reid priority was to be in Reno to participate in the blessing of a grandson rather than be in front of the cameras of the Sunday morning TV press interview shows--where at the time he was very much in demand for his insights.

Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch did have a joint appearance on CNN later, where Senator Hatch said of Reid, "I wish more Democrats were like Harry Reid. He does bend over backwards from time to time to make things work between the two parties."

As a Democrat and member of a church whose US members are mostly political conservatives and who seem most often to affiliate with the Republican party, Senator Reid's political affiliation and stance on many issues have found him at odds with many church members' political views. Senator Reid has commented on some of his experiences, saying, "The only aggravation I've had in politics as a member of the church has come from within the church. Some people in the church write me letters about what a bad person I am; they've really tried to damage me."

Senator Reid's political life has not been easy in Nevada. Some observers believe he walks a moral tightrope with regard to some of the issues he supports. In a press interview three years ago, he was asked "if a devout Mormon could promote gambling in Nevada with a clear conscience. His response: "Gambling is a personal choice. I do everything I can to protect Nevada's No. 1 industry but I have no obligation to protect gaming in other places."

In addition to Senator Reid and Senator Hatch, there are 3 other Senators and 12 Representatives in the House who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or who have Mormon heritage in their family. There are a total of 5 Democrats and they are Senator Reid of Nevada, Representative Jim Matheson of Utah, Representative Tom Udall of New Mexico, Representative Mark Udall of Colorado, and Eni Faleomavaega, who is a non-voting delegate from American Samoa. (Mark Udall does not consider himself to be a member of the Church.)

Church members in the Republican party are Senators Hatch and Bennett of Utah, Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho and Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. The Republican Representatives who are members of the Church are Jeff Flake of Arizona, Chris Cannon and Jim Hansen of Utah; John Doolittle, Wally Herger and Buck McKeon of California; Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, and Mike Simpson of Idaho.


Senate's New Majority Whip Walks a Fine Line in Politics, Religion
Salt Lake Tribune 9Jun01 T2
By Christopher Smith: Salt Lake Tribune

See also:

LDS Senator Persuaded Jeffords to Switch


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