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
LDS Senator Persuaded Jeffords to Switch