Mormons in Congress 2012, Part 7

More timely and trenchant analysis from Kay King:

 U.S. House Races in California and American Samoa

One Less Mormon in California

California has more Latter-day Saints than any American state except Utah.  Numerically twice as many Church members live in California than live in Idaho, and Church statistics give the number of California Mormons as nearly 800,000.  Since California is the most populous state in the nation with well over 37 million inhabitants, however, Latter-day Saints make up only about 2% of the state’s population, which makes California about as Mormon as the average for the United States as a whole.

California has 53 House members – the largest of any state; Texas with a distant 30 will have the second largest number next year; New York and Florida will be tied for third with 27; and Illinois will be fifth with 18.

Currently two California congressmen are Church members, and since the early 1950s there have been Mormons in the California congressional delegation.  From 1963 to 2009 there were at least three LDS California congressmen, and for short periods there have been four Church members.  In January 2009 the number of LDS Congressman dropped to two and after January 2013, it appears that only a single LDS congressman will remain.

Latter-day Saints have been well established in the Golden State since the early days of California.  It was a Church 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, arriving in San Francisco even before California was annexed by the United States from Mexico.  Mormons were among the earliest settlers in the San Bernardino area.  By the end of the 19th century significant numbers of Latter-day Saints were moving to the Bay Area, and since the beginning of the 20th century economic opportunity drew large numbers of Church members to southern California.  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.

The number of Mormons elected to Congress from California has declined over the last couple of decades, while at the same time the number of Mormons elected to Congress from Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada has increased.  This seems contradictory, but a closer look suggests some reasons.  In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when Latter-day Saints were first elected to Congress outside Utah, Latter-day Saint political loyalties were relatively evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.  In the last half century the mountain west (Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming – the Mormon heartland) has become increasingly Republican in its political identification (unrelated to the presence of Latter-day Saints), and Church members have also shifted heavily toward the Republican Party.  Since 1980, the proportion of LDS representatives in national politics has been overwhelmingly Republican.  California, at the same time has become increasingly more Democratic in its politics.  (Today only 36% of California’s representatives in Congress are Republican, and that number is expected to shrink after the 2012 election.)

Congressman Wally Herger

Not Running for Reelection


Walter William “Wally” Herger (R-CA 1987-present) has represented the northwestern section of California bordering Nevada and Oregon for almost 26 years.  The district starts north of Sacramento and is heavily rural, with an economy dependent on agriculture and lumber.  Redding, Chico and Yuba City are the largest communities.  Born and raised in that area, Herger was a rancher and propane gas dealer.  He served six years in the California State Assembly (1981-1986) before his election to Congress in 1986.  Although many of the California Mormons have been migrants from Utah and the mountain west, Herger was a convert to the Church when he was about 20 (LDS Church News October 29, 2008).

Herger has served on the House Ways and Means Committee for the entire time he has served in Congress.  Ways and Means is one of the most powerful and important House committees, having jurisdiction over all U.S. tax legislation, the Social Security and Medicare programs, federal welfare programs, trade legislation, and the Internal Revenue Service.  Under Republican House majorities, he was Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Resources and involved in welfare reform legislation, and since 2011, he has been chair of the Subcommittee on Trade.

When a political party is in the majority in House or Senate, the majority party selects committee chairs and the minority party selects the Ranking Member of the committee.  Democratic procedures and practice generally lead to designation of the longest serving member of the Committee as chair, but Republican procedures give the party leadership flexibility to deviate from strict seniority in selection of chairs.  In 2007 when Republicans were in the minority, Herger was the longest-serving Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, but he was not designated Ranking Member of the committee, though he did serve as Ranking Member on a subcommittee.  In 2009 when the previous Ranking Member retired and again in 2011 when Republicans won the House majority, the Republican leadership named a member junior to Herger as Ranking and then as Chair of the committee.  The apparent reason for Herger’s not receiving the promotion was that he was not a prolific partisan fundraiser, and Ways and Means Committee leaders have traditionally raised significant funds for the party’s campaign committees (“Report: Herger won’t seek reelection,” The Hill).

Herger’s record for reelection was strong and consistent, most of his races were won by votes of around 60%.  In August 2011 there were rumors that he would retire, but he denied them: “I’ve been in … elected office for a while now, and there’s been an active rumor that I’ve been retiring for at least 15 years,” but he said he was “intrigued and excited” by his job and the “big fight going on in Washington.”  In view of this statement, his decision not to seek reelection, announced in January 2012, came as something of a surprise (“Report: Herger won’t seek reelection,” The Hill; “Wally Herger will not run again,”

Though Herger endorsed coreligionist Mitt Romney for president when he announced he would not seek reelection, he also endorsed a state senator as his congressional successor who is not a Church member.  There does not appear to be any new Latter-day Saint faces among the likely to win in California.

Congressman Buck McKeon, Chairman of

the House Armed Services Committee

Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA 1993-present)represents California’s 25th Congressional District (northeast portions of Los Angeles County including Santa Clarita and Palmdale).  His district is little changed in the redistricting that goes into effect with the upcoming election, and he has consistently won with significant majorities.  There is no expectation that will change in the general election later this year.  When McKeon was first elected to Congress in 1992, he received 52% of the vote.  Since that first election he has won with majorities between 58% and 75% of the vote.

Buck McKeon was born and raised in Los Angeles County, served a mission, and graduated from BYU in animal husbandry.  His early career was principally as a small businessman – he owned a western clothing store and was chairman of a small local bank.  He served on the high school district school board and was later on the Santa Clarita town council for a term before running for Congress.

Congressman McKeon has held two very senior committee chairmanships in the House.  In 2006, McKeon replaced Congressman, now Speaker, John Boehner (R-Ohio) as Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force when Boehner was elected Majority Leader following the resignation of Congressman Tom Delay.  After the 2006 election, 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. In June 2009, McKeon became Ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, and in January 2011 when Republicans became the Majority party, McKeon became Chairman of the Armed Services Committee (“Buck McKeon Biography,” Official Congressional Site; “Howard McKeon,” Wikipedia).

Patricia McKeon, wife of the Congressman, also ran in the 2012 primary election for an open seat in the California State Assembly.  There were a number of candidates running, and she received 22.2% of the vote, but another Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate both received a somewhat higher percentage of the vote (“Patricia McKeon,” Ballotpedia).

Congressman Eni Faleomavaega

Delegate of American Samoa

Six territories of the United States are entitled to elect a delegate to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives – American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.  The Delegates do not have full voting rights in the House of Representatives, but they are treated as members of the House, serve on committees where they exercise full rights including the right to vote on committee issues and they chair committees or subcommittees.  Most of the territorial delegates are Democratic representatives, and the Democratic House leadership has been more generous than the Republican leadership in extending Congressional privileges to delegates.

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, and 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 called Western Samoa).  The country and the territory together make up the Samoan islands.  The United States acquired the eastern islands with its excellent harbor of 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 population of American Samoa is 24% and the proportion of the independent country of Samoa is 36% LDS.  The independent country of Samoa has the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints of any country in the world (greater by 15 times than the United States), and the proportion of the Mormon population in the territory of American Samoa is only slightly less than the proportion of Mormons in the state of Idaho.

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 (Official Congressional web site of Eni F. H. Faleomavaega).

In the current congress Faleomavaega serves as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and during the period of Democratic control of the House (2007-2011), he was chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  If the Democrats regain the majority in the House of Representatives in the upcoming election on November 6th, there is a chance Faleomavaega could end up chair of the full Foreign Affairs Committee.  The only other Democratic committee member who is more senior than him is Howard Berman (D-CA), who was committee chair from 2008 to 2011 and is currently Ranking Democratic Member.  Berman is locked in a tight race with another California Democratic lawmaker as a result of redistricting which placed them both in the same district.  In the June 2012 Primary election, Berman was defeated by Congressman Brad Sherman 42.4% to 32.4%, but under California primary law, the top two vote getters in the primary, regardless of their party affiliation, are the two who face off in the general election.  The two will face each other again on November 6, and at this point the outcome is uncertain.

Faleomavaega has a good record of winning reelection with the volatile electorate in American Samoa, but with such a small number of voters, there tends to be a good deal of fluctuation in voter turnout and election results.  Fewer votes are cast in the delegate race in American Samoa than in any other congressional election contest.  Since he won the 1988 election with 51% of the vote, he has had difficult election fights, though his numbers remain good.  In 2004 Faleomavaega won with 65% of the vote (12,108 out of a total of 18,754 votes cast), but in 2006 he won with 47% of the vote in a three-way race (5,195 out of a total of 11,033 votes cast).  In 2008 he received 7,498 votes or 60% of the votes cast and in 2010, 6,895 votes or 56.3% of the vote.  Turnout, family connections of the candidates, and the periodic presence of third candidates give considerable variation to the electoral results.  Every election requires a great effort in retail politics.  (Results in Wikipedia “United States House of Representatives election in American Samoa”).

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