Rising Mormon Political Star: Utah State Senator Ben McAdams

Chris H. once again guests, continuing his efforts to seduce us all into godless Communism.

I first met Ben McAdams in Park City in 1999. The Utah Democratic Party was having their off-year annual convention at Park City High School. I was attending as a journalist for the short-lived newspaper The Orem Daily Journal. Ben was Student Body President at the University of Utah and had previously been head of their College Democrats. He had been tapped to be the chair of the convention and was conducting the meeting.

Covering the 1998 elections, I met Charlie Luke, the campaign manager for the senate campaign of Scott Leckman. I ran into Charlie at the convention and I told him that I had just transferred to the U. If that was the case, he said, I needed to meet Ben. Charlie had headed up the College Democrats the year before Ben. The buzz at the convention was that Ben was a kid (though as an RM he was in his early 20s and he was also older than me) who going places.

I was impressed by how articulate and smart Ben was. It was intimidating, really. I wanted to be the political mover and shaker in those days. But I lacked the traits that made Ben stand out in a crowd. Ben had charm, and not the slimy politician charm that many of the people I met that day had.

I ran into Ben a few times the next year and a half at the Univ. of Utah as he planned for his next step: law school at Columbia. I have heard or seen his name a few times since, but I lost track of him (pretty sure he would not even know who I am). Since that time I have been active in the state party at various times and I followed the party closely during the time I was Idaho. While it has had its ups and downs, I have thought over the years, that the party needs people like Ben: leaders who could appeal to liberals and Mormons (luckily for me, I am both).

It looks like Ben has done well for himself according to this article in the Deseret News. He completed his studies at Columbia, gained some experience in the legal profession, and, most recently, has worked as the legislative liaison for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

Now Ben is taking some time off from Mayor Becker’s office to serve in the Utah State Senate. Democratic State Senator Scott McCoy stepped down to focus on his legal work and in December a caucus of local Democrats nominated Ben to fill the rest of McCoy’s term. Ben is a great replacement for McCoy, who is was a very intelligent legislator.

The thing that has me most excited about Ben is that he falls within the tradition of liberal Salt Lake Mormon Democrats. This tradition includes the likes of the late Wayne Owens and former Mayor Ted Wilson. We haven’t seen much of this tradition lately. Speaking of his politics and his Mormonism, the Deseret News quotes Ben:

McAdams, a member of the LDS Church, said he doesn’t find it difficult to be a Mormon and a Democrat.

“I don’t feel any dissonance between myself and my political beliefs and my faith,” he said, describing himself as progressive in his views. “There are certainly people who have criticized me, but I believe I’m acting 100 percent in accordance with my conscience.”

He said that that’s what his faith requires, “to act in accordance with what my personal beliefs are. I don’t look to any outside source or religious authority to tell me how I should think or what my political opinion should be. They come from me.”

I wish Ben well in this year’s legislative session which starts on Monday and in his campaign for own four-year term in the November election.


  1. It is good to see that an LDS kid can come out of Columbia Law and actually contribute to the common good.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    McAdams is The Man.

    May his tribe increase.

  3. I think I remember the Orem Daily Journal, if it existed circa 1992-1994. Ran columns by Robert Kirby under the pseudonym “Officer Blitz Kreeg.” Had some wonderfully lunatic, Tea-Party-Before-Tea-Parties-Were-Cool, awesome dingbat cartoonist who tried to find ways to mock Jane Fonda in every editorial cartoon. Great stuff, if it’s the paper I’m remembering. If not, oh well.

  4. Yes, Chris — like escaping from Shawshank, Ben has crawled through a mile of crap to emerge clean on the other side!

    I don’t think this post should be taken as a political endorsement, and I don’t think that’s the intent here, but let me add two cents about Ben: he is a great guy. I’ve known him for years and think he’s smart, humble and pretty funny. No idea about his politics, but seeing someone of Ben’s caliber as an up-and-comer in Utah is good news for everyone.

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    Great introduction, thanks Chris.

    Now we just need a guest post from Ben himself!

  6. Russell,

    It was also the Utah County Journal for a while, which is probably what you are remembering. It was a free paper that was published twice a week and delivered to your door. It was around for over a decade.

    The attempt at a daily to challenge the Daily Herald only went Oct. 1998 to August 1999. Kirby did have his start there, though he was already at the Trib by the time I got there. They had plenty of proto-Tea-Party-types, though most, including Stephen Carter, now of Sunstone, werre just young journalist trying to get a start. In terms of journalism, it was my finish.

  7. Steve,

    I intended this more as saying the Ben is cool. While, I personallly agree with his politics, that is not why I wrote this. I would love to do some spotlights on other young LDS political animals.

  8. Aaron Brown says:

    Do Columbia Law grads have souls?

  9. Cynthia L. says:

    Aaron, nobody knows for sure when Columbia Law students lose their souls. Certainly, after they graduate, the soul is not present. But whether it is lost in 1L or “first trimester,” or in the second or third, there just hasn’t been definitive revelation on this point. Some older prophets believed it happened at the time of the first internship, or “quickening,” while some fundamentalists believe it happens the moment the acceptance letter and student unite.

  10. Cynthia, that was awesome.

  11. Cynthia, that was beyond awesome.

  12. Ditto Steve. Ben is a great all-around human being, and I only hope someday he runs for an office where I can vote for him. Which basically means, given the chances that I’ll ever live in Utah, I hope someday he runs for president. He epitomizes for me the way a person can be both a good member of the Church and a good politician.

  13. I think this is the first full body shot we’ve ever had at BCC of a politician running for office. Let me just say that I, for one, hope that we’ve set a new precedent.

  14. Chris (1),
    “It is good to see that an LDS kid can come out of Columbia Law and actually contribute to the common good.”

    Absolutely. And other than Ben, not a single CLS grad has ever done a lick of good.

  15. Well, perhaps technically. But FDR graduated a long, long time ago.

  16. Thanks, Sam. It was just a poke at Steve and Kaimi. I will take a look at the more comprehensive list later.

  17. David Handy says:

    Just wondering…what does being a graduate of Columbia Law have to do with Ben’s greatness?…Would he suffer in the eyes of the adoring if he had matriculated to Utah or BYU Law?…

  18. Would he suffer in the eyes of the adoring if he had matriculated to Utah or BYU Law?

    If the former, no. If the latter, yes.

  19. Though, I only speak for myself. And I’m not one of the adoring. So, whatever.

  20. David,

    Actually, his BA is poli sci at Utah is sufficient for adoration. The Columbia LS is only mentioned because certain folks round here are also products of said law school. That said, I am jealous of all who have had the opportunity to study at top-rate universities.

  21. David Handy says:

    Chris…Having lived in Boston for 10 years I was amazed at how many LDS matriculated through the various graduate schools in the area…Surprisingly most were quite humble and appreciative of their good fortune and did not let the moniker “eastern elite” deter them from their good fortune…In Neal Maxwell’s bio he mentions a 1966 Boston stake conference he attended where three future apostles drawn to Boston for graduate school were in attendance…In various talks I used to raise the point and ask those in attendance to “look around the room” and see if they could pick out a “future apostle”… Many did and were not laughing…

  22. my wife might get her PhD from Columbia. I’ll do my best to ensure she keeps her soul. :)

  23. Chris (16),
    I figured. But it was still cool to see a Wikipedia list of CLS grads.

  24. (I probably should have added a smiley face after the link, but I’m conflicted about using them.)

  25. Hey, Chris. This is a nice way to catch up with you after many years. Thanks! I just finished skimming the comments about me following the Trib article (which I swear never to do again). It was nice to stumble on this and see some familiar names. The legislative session starts on Monday and I’ll be pretty swamped but I’ll check in from time to time. Steve and Sam, remember that I’m paying you by the word, so let’s make these compliments a little more lengthy please. :) (Smiley face is for Sam B.)

  26. #7 looking to profile another young rising LDS Democrat? Keith Allred, running for governor in Idaho.

  27. So, Ben, about that guest post…

  28. I seem to recall Ben running a pretty good BBQ at his place in Manhattan – that is, before he moved from where the church originated to the traditional location of Mormon exile. Nonetheless, he’s doing great things. So we forgive him.

  29. Isn’t Columbia for Mormons who couldn’t get into Chicago?

  30. And someone should have scrolled far enough down the list to see this entry:

    Reuben Clark, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, 1930-33.

    I understand that those poor souls who go there refer to it as “J. Reuben Clark’s law school.” (If they have souls, that is.)

  31. Ben,

    Thanks for stopping by. We will have to have you share some of your insights from your first session after it is done.

  32. “I seem to recall Ben running a pretty good BBQ at his place in Manhattan ”

    danithew (#28),

    That is quite an important skill for any successful pol. Lincoln only won after he got his BBQ skills down.

  33. Mark B,

    My favorite on the list is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

  34. jeans,

    Thanks for pointing out Keith Allred.

    Also, I am also interested in taking a look at any young Republicans.

    You might be saying: There are other parties. What about Social Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and Constitution Party members? If Russell runs on a Social Democrat ticket, I might be interested.

  35. Chris and John C – Would love to check in after the session ends in mid-March. Thanks for the invite. I’ll plan on it.

    danithew – we still like to bbq. When are you going to bring ms. danithew and baby danithew out for a visit? Sorry we missed you when we were in NYC last.

  36. Aaron Brown says:

    “Isn’t Columbia for Mormons who couldn’t get into Chicago?”

    Or, for Mormons who did get into Chicago, but couldn’t bear the thought of living in Chicago.

  37. John Mansfield says:

    It may interest some of the Democratic and Mormon persuasions that Rory Reid (Harry’s son) is running for governor in Nevada. However, he graduated from the BYU law school, so that will preclude interest on the part of others.

  38. Ben, there is a decent possibility we might be in the area sometime soon – unfortunately, if it works out, it will only be about a week. We will be pulled back and forth between Danithew’s family and Mrs. Danithew’s family because they all want to hold baby danithew – some for the first time.

    But wait a second – did you say BBQ?