This article is a bit old - but does a good job describing the highest
ranking Mormon ever in the government - the new Senate majority
leader Harry Reid.
Reid firmly rooted in Mormon faith
No other Latter-day Saint has served in higher role in Congress than
Nevada Democrat By: Tony Batt
Date: 8 September 2002
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal
WASHINGTON -- When the transmission went out in his car, the young law
student was ready to quit school and go back home to Nevada.
After all, he had a wife and two babies to support, and expenses in
Washington, D.C., were eating him alive.
In desperation, he went to see the dean of George Washington
University Law School to see if financial help might be available.
That's when he found out what President Truman meant when he said, "If
you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."
Almost 40 years later, the dean's ice cold response is embedded in his memory.
"Why don't you just drop out of school?" the dean asked.
But Harry Reid did not drop out of school.
As it turned out, he had one more option: his Mormon church.
The church paid for his transmission. Reid graduated, went on to
become a millionaire lawyer and eventually, the majority whip of the
United States Senate.
"I'm sorry to admit now I would have quit," Reid said. "I think I was
looking for a way out."
Without the church, he said, "I don't think I would have made it out
of law school or been able to do as well with my family."
It is widely known that Reid, 62, is the first Nevadan to ever ascend
to a position in congressional leadership.
What is not so well known is that no other member of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ever served in a higher
leadership role in Congress.
Reid was not born into a Mormon family and did not join the church
until he was a student at Utah State University in Logan. After a
rough and tumble upbringing in the mining town of Searchlight, Reid
became an amateur boxer and has acknowledged getting "called out" from
bars in his youth.
"I am, by nature, somebody that ... I was raised where you settled
your differences physically, and I still have a little of that in me
and I'm fighting that all the time. I don't want to be mean to
people," he said.
"I think the church had a tremendous influence on my family's life and
my life, and I hope it's been for the better."
Reid did not become familiar with the Mormon Church until he began
attending high school in Henderson, 45 miles from Searchlight.
"I never went to church, ever -- not once in a while or occasionally
-- but never," Reid said. "There was no church in Searchlight. There
was no place to go to church. So I had no experience with religion at
As a new kid in Henderson, Reid wore clothes his mother bought out of
a Sears & Roebuck catalog. "I'm sure I was, as I look back, kind of a
hick," he said.
In spite of Reid's awkward appearance, a couple of Mormon classmates
at Basic High School befriended him and helped him meet other people.
Then Reid took a course offered by the Mormon Church on Mormon history
taught by a bishop named Marlan Walker. "He was mesmerizing. For the
first time in my life, I heard the message of Jesus Christ," Reid
wrote in "Why I Believe," a book written by prominent Mormons.
But Reid did not join the church until he was at Utah State.
After his sophomore year in college, he eloped with his wife, Landra,
because her Jewish parents did not want her to marry someone outside
the faith. They were married by Walker, who performed the ceremony for
free in a Mormon chapel. By the time he graduated from college, Reid
and his wife had been baptized as Latter-day Saints.
As a Democrat, Reid is unusual among Mormon politicians. For example,
there are five Latter-day Saints in the Senate. All are Republicans
The first time Reid's son Leif attended a Latter-day Saint church in
Washington, D.C., a member asked him to attend a Young Republicans
When Leif declined, and explained he was a Democrat, the church member
replied, "I didn't know a Mormon could be a Democrat."
Despite the perception that Mormons are inextricably linked to the
GOP, the senator said he believes voter registration between Democrats
and Republicans in the church is fairly even.
Reid also insists it is easier for a Democrat to be a good Latter-day
Saint than it is for a Republican to be a good Latter-day Saint.
"One of the reasons I feel so strongly about the philosophy of the
Democratic Party is that we're concerned about people who have
little," Reid said. "Look at the programs we've pushed: Social
Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Republicans opposed those, every one of
them. ... I don't see how a person who cares about their fellow man
could oppose these programs."
Another Latter-day Saint, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, disagrees.
"Let's put it this way. I think that's pure bunk," Hatch said.
Without Republicans to control federal spending by Democrats, Hatch
said, the country would be far worse off economically.
"Look how they're spending now and how it's just like a bunch of
drunken sailors around here," Hatch said. "All I can say is true
religion means living within your means. True religion means doing
what is in the best interest of the country as a whole. True religion,
it seems to me, is being honest about what has to be done around
As a Mormon politician, Reid said the only criticism he has received
has come from church members. Reid has never had any problems with the
church leadership in Salt Lake City. Instead, the complaints have come
primarily from Mormons in Reid's base of Southern Nevada.
Reid recalled an ugly incident during his last campaign in 1998 when
he won re-election by 428 votes over Republican John Ensign, who in
2000 was elected to the Senate.
One of Reid's sons, whom the senator declined to name, attended a
Halloween party at a Mormon church in Las Vegas. The event, called
"Trunk or Treat," allows children to pick up candy from car trunks in
the church parking lot. In one of the car trunks was a picture of
Reid, with the devil.
"We have many very conservative people in the church, and I'm not a
very conservative person in a lot of things," Reid said.
"Some people have difficulty separating their politics from their
religion," he said. "And even though that group ... is a small group,
they still have aggravated me over the years. ... They're pretty
non-Christian, in my opinion."
Reid stirred his own controversy recently when he suggested two Nevada
Republican state candidates who are Mormons may have defaced their own
campaign signs. The signs for state Senate candidate Tom Christensen
and Assembly candidate Garn Mabey were defaced with stickers that read
"My guess is as good as any, but maybe some of Christensen's people
figure that's a way to engender sympathy and get the Mormons to turn
out for him," Reid said.
Christensen, who lost in the primary election, said he was surprised
when a reporter told him what Reid had said.
"I didn't hear him say those comments, and I want to be careful even
now about what I say," Christensen said. "If he did make those
statements, they are totally groundless and baseless."
William Stoddard, an attorney who served as a bishop in Reid's Mormon
ward in Las Vegas during the 1980s, said the senator has been an
outstanding member of the church.
As evidence, Stoddard points to Reid's five children, all of whom are
active church members. But Stoddard acknowledged there are some
members of the church in Las Vegas who strongly disagree with Reid's
"Some of them are unbending. They can't conceive that he can be a good
guy because he has a different point of view," Stoddard said. "I don't
know what one does about that."
In 1974, in what Reid has acknowledged was the nadir of his career, he
lost his first race for the Senate by a scant 624 votes to former
Republican Gov. Paul Laxalt.
Even though he was a Mormon like Reid, Ashley Hall, who would later
serve as the city manager of Las Vegas, supported Laxalt.
"One of the best things that happened to Harry Reid was how he matured
significantly between 1974 and when he was elected (to the House in
1982)," Hall said.
Hall said his relationship with Reid now is positive, although they
still disagree frequently on politics.
"I have never had any qualms about his personal religious philosophy,"
Hall said of Reid. "I've never seen him out of character when it comes
to religion. He is a true blue member of the church."
In Utah, church elders view Reid as a valuable asset.
Richard Davis, a political science professor at Brigham Young
University, said church leaders in Salt Lake City were pleased last
year when Reid became Senate majority whip.
"They don't want the Mormon Church to be regarded as a Republican
church, and they have been sending quiet messages in recent years that
it's OK to be a Democrat and a Mormon," said Davis, who also is
Mormon. "That is the sort of thing where Harry Reid helps because he's
But Reid appears to draw a line between his religious work and his job
in the Senate.
Lamar Sleight, director of the Mormon office of international and
government affairs in Washington, D.C., for the past 10 years, said
the church has never asked Reid for help on legislation pending in
"The church jealously guards its political neutrality," Sleight said.
"Occasionally, we'll get a call from Capitol Hill relative to a moral
issue. They might ask us for our position and we'll put out a
statement. But we don't go formally to (lawmakers)."
At the same time, the church knows Reid is in a position to help if
needed, Stoddard said.
"For example, it would not surprise me that if there were problems in
some country abroad where full-time (Mormon) missionaries were not
being treated properly that he might exert some influence," Stoddard
said. "My sense is that something like that probably has happened."
Reid describes his Mormon faith as a great disciplinary tool. He said
he has tithed 10 percent of his income to the church since becoming a
"I've always had a job in the church," Reid said.
He teaches Sunday school to a singles class at a Mormon church in
Washington, D.C. Reid and another church member also visit four
Latter-day Saint families each month to make sure their needs are met.
"Harry Reid is a good example of how to use religion in politics
because he doesn't use it in an overt way," said Davis, the BYU
political science professor. "I wouldn't be surprised if he loses the