This is part of a series of guest posts by Bob King.
Part V – House of Representatives: Pacific Mormons: California Mormons to Drop from 3 to 2;
Mormon Delegate in American Samoa
California has more Latter-day Saints than any American state except Utah, and in numerical terms, it has twice the number of Church members as live in Idaho. According to the Church statistics, over 750,000 Mormons reside in the state. Since California is the most populous state in the nation with well over 36 million inhabitants, however, Latter-day Saints make up only 2.12% of the state’s population, which makes California only slightly more Mormon than the average for the United States as a whole.
Nevertheless three of California’s 53 House members are Church members (almost 6% of the state’s U.S. House delegation). This “over” representation in part this reflects the fact that Latter-day Saints have been well established in the Golden State since the early days of California. For example, it was a member of the demobilized Mormon Battalion working his way to Utah who discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, and in 1846 a group of Mormon emigrants under Samuel Brannan sailed from New York by way of Cape Horn and Hawaii and arrived in what became San Francisco even before the area was annexed from Mexico by the United States.
Mormons established a brief presence in various parts of California, including San Bernardino, before the Mormon War of 1857 led to a pulling back of far-flung Mormon colonies. By the end of the 19th century Mormons were moving to the Bay Area, and in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s economic opportunity drew large numbers of Mormons to southern California. Thus, Mormons have had a longer term presence in California than in other parts of the United States beyond the Mormon heartland in the Mountain West.
Since the early 1950s there have been Mormons in the California Congressional delegation. Since 1963 at least three California congressmen have been LDS, and for short periods there have been four Church members in Congress representing California districts. In November 2008, however, that number will drop by at least one member – and California will have only two LDS congressmen – the lowest number in some time.
Congressman John Doolittle and the Jack Abramoff Scandal
In January 2008, LDS Congressman John Doolittle (R-California 4th District) announced that he would not run for reelection. The 4th District is the north east portion of the state from the outskirts of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe on the east and the Oregon border on the north. Though he was first elected to Congress in 1991 and his district remains reliably Republican, Doolittle has been linked with convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Abramoff, a former high powered Washington lobbyist, was the key figure in a number of major political scandals in recent years. In January 2006 he pleaded guilty to three criminal felony counts of defrauding American Indian tribes, which he represented as a lobbyist. He also pled guilty to corruption of public officials, and thus far additional guilty pleas or convictions have involved two White House officials, an Ohio Congressman, and nine other lobbyists or congressional staffers. Abramoff also pled guilty to two felony counts related to crimes involving a casino cruise line. He is currently serving time in federal prison. (Jack Abramoff – Wikipedia;Investigating Abramoff – Special Report: Washington Post articles on Jack Abramoff which won a Pulitzer Prize for the journalists involved.)
Because Doolittle was tainted in the ongoing Abramoff scandal, he came very close to loosing the 2006 election. He received only 49% of the vote to his Democratic opponent’s 46%. Bush carried the district in 2004 with 61% of the vote, and Doolittle won that same year with 65%. (Beyond the Polls: State of the Day – California, June 24, 2008)
Doolittle’s problems got worse in February 2007 when his home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs was searched by the FBI in connection with the Abramoff scandal. Questions were raised about his wife’s contract work for Abramoff and for former House Majority Leader Congressman Tom Delay, who is also under indictment. (“FBI Searches Congressman’s Home,” Washington Post, April 18, 2007; “F.B.I. Searches Home of California Lawmaker,” New York Times, April 19, 2007)
The FBI reportedly offered a plea bargain to the Congressman, but he refused to accept it. Doolittle declared his innocence and announced his intention to fight the charges against him and his wife. A few days later, under pressure from his Republican colleagues, he resigned “temporarily” from his position as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He has not returned to that committee position. (“Rep. Doolittle quits committee after FBI searches his home,” Associated Press, Oakland Tribune, April 20, 2007)
Toward the end of the year 2007 a number of Republican candidates announced their intention to challenge Doolittle in the Republican primary, and on January 10, 2008, he announced that he would complete his current term, but not run for reelection in November 2008. (“Rep. Doolittle Announces Retirement,” New York Times, January 10, 2008)
The final shoe may not have dropped for Congressman Doolittle. In early September Kevin Ring, Doolittle’s former chief of staff and later a lobbying partner of Jack Abramoff, was indicted on corruption charges that he provided gifts to “several public officials” to reward them for taking actions beneficial to his clients, and those individuals included several Doolittle staffers and Doolittle himself. Ring reportedly was asked to implicate others as the price of leniency, and when he refused, the Justice Department unsealed a ten-count indictment against him and arrested him.
The indictment quotes an October 2000 e-mail from Ring to Abramoff describing Congressman Doolittle as “such a good soldier, doing everything we asked of him,” and suggesting Abramoff seek more campaign money for Doolittle. Through his attorney, Doolittle “steadfastly maintained . . . that he is innocent.” The attorney said that the Ring indictment made “gratuitous references to the congressman and his wife” in an apparent effort “to titillate the public, with the foreseeable and therefore intended consequence of attempting to embarrass and pressure the congressman.” (“Former Abramoff lobbyist, Hill aide indicted,” Associated Press / San Francisco Chronicle.)
Doolittle is not the first LDS Congressman to become enmeshed in a scandal on Capitol Hill, though the Mormon emphasis on honesty and integrity makes such ethical breaches more painful and more noticeable. And both political parties have had their share problems.
When Doolittle was first elected to Congress in 1991, he succeeded LDS Congressman Norman Shumway, who retired after serving a decade as a Member of the U.S. House (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress). Doolittle, however, will not be succeeded by another member of the Church. Neither the Republican or Democratic candidate for Doolittle’s seat are LDS.
California’s Remaining Mormon Congressmen
California’s other two LDS Congressmen have secure seats, and both are expected to win reelection handily. None of the other California members of Congress are Mormon, and I have not been able to find any Church members among the California nominees for Congress.
Since 1987 Walter William “Wally” Herger (R-California 2nd District) has represented the north central portion of the state with Chico its largest city. He looks like a shoo-in for reelection. He won his 2006 race with 64% of the vote and his district gave George Bush 62% of the vote in 2004. Herger has been mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for California governor in 2010, when Arnold Schwarzenegger will be prevented by state term-limit laws from running again. Herger currently serves as the Ranking Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Trade (Beyond the Polls: State of the Day – California, June 24, 2008)
Buck McKeon who represents California’s 25th Congressional District (northeast portions of Los Angeles County including Santa Clarita and Palmdale, as well as sparsely populated areas from these LA suburbs to the Nevada border, including Barstow), was first elected to Congress in 1993, and he is very likely to be returned in November 2008. McKeon won reelection in 2004 with 64% of the vote, and in 2006, a more difficult year for Republicans everywhere, he was reelected with 60% of the vote. McKeon replaced Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio) as Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force in 2006 when Boehner was elected Majority Leader following the resignation of Congressman Tom Delay. After the 2006 elections, when Republicans lost the majority in the House, McKeon became Ranking Republican member of the Education and Labor Committee, a senior position in the Republican leadership (Beyond the Polls: State of the Day – California, June 24, 2008.)
American Samoa – Mormon Territorial Delegate Seeks Reelection
Five territories of the United States are entitled to elect a delegate to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives. The territories are the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. The Delegates do not have full voting rights in the House of Representatives, but they are treated as full members of the House, serve on committees where they exercise full rights equal to any other member of Congress, they can chair committees or subcommittees, and they now are permitted to preside over the House of Representatives as Speaker pro tempore. It is only in full plenary sessions of the House of Representatives they they are not permitted to vote.
One of the five territorial delegates is a member of the Church – Eni F. H. Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa). American Samoa is a territory of only 77 square miles on five volcanic islands 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. The population of the islands is about 58,000 people. Samoa has the smallest population of any jurisdiction represented in the Congress.
American Samoa is a territory of the United States, but there is also an Independent country of Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) which together make up the Samoan islands. The United States acquired the eastern cluster of islands with its noted harbor Pago Pago as a base for American ships to operate in the South Pacific at the end of the 19th century. Latter-day Saint missionaries found their way to Samoa in the mid-1800s, not long after the first missionaries arrived in Hawaii. The Mormon proportion of the population of American Samoa is 24% and the proportion of the independent state of Samoa is nearly 30%.
Congressman Faleomavaega attended BYU, received a law degree from the University of Houston, and a Masters of Law from the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. He worked as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, was appointed deputy attorney general of American Samoa, was elected Lieutenant Governor of the territory (1984-1989), and was elected to represent Samoa in Congress in 1989. In the current congress Faleomavaega serves as chair of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
With such a small electorate, there tends to be a good deal of fluctuation in voter turnout and election results. Since he won the 1988 election with 51% of the vote, he has had difficult election fights. In 2004 Faleomavaega won with 64.6% of the vote (12,108 out of a total of 18,754 votes cast), but in 2006 he won with 47.1% of the vote in a three-way race (5,195 out of a total of 11,033 votes cast). Turnout, family connections of the candidates, and the occasional presence of third candidates give considerable variation to the electoral results. Every election requires a great effort in retail politics.
The Bottom Line – The 2008 Election and the Number of Mormons in Congress
What does this all mean in terms of the likely impact of the 2008 election on the number of Mormons in Congress?
The good news – there could be six Mormon Senators, the highest number ever. Four Church members are hold-overs and will continue to serve in January 2009 when the new Congress is sworn in. Two Mormons are very credible candidates in the 35 senate races underway. Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) is running for reelection and the race is currently considered to be leaning Republican. Congressman Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) is running for an open senate seat, and that race is currently considered to be leaning Democratic. Personal issues and local political factors will influence the race, but at this point I would say there is a better than even chance that next year we will see six LDS senators. If that happens, the political breakdown would be 4 Republicans and 2 Democrats.
And now for the bad news – there will be no more than 9 Latter-day Saint congressman taking the oath of office next January in the House of Representatives – down two from the current 11 now serving. John Doolittle (R-California 4th) is not running for reelection and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico 3rd) is running for the Senate. Utah’s 3rd Congressional district will have a new congressman, but he will be LDS. Since that district is the most Republican congressional district in the country, the likely new representative will be Jason Chaffetz.
Of the remaining six LDS congressmen running for reelection, barring some as-yet-unknown scandal or an unforeseen electoral tidal wave, four are shoo-ins. Two are facing election contests that are promising but less than certain. My prognostication is that Dean Heller (R-Nevada 2nd) and Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) will win reelection. The political breakdown with this scenario of 9 Mormons in the House will be 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats.