Mormons in Congress 2012–Part 8

Another in our series from guest Kay Atkinson King (with special appearance from BCC friend Chris Henrichsen!)

(8) House Races in Idaho and Wyoming


Idaho is the state second only to Utah in the percentage of Latter-day Saints who are residents, and it is third (after Utah and California) in the total number of LDS living in the state.  Because Mormons were a large portion of the state’s population and its largest religious group, but unlike Utah not large enough to have a majority to dominate the state’s politics, the relationship between Mormons and politics has been more difficult and complicated in Idaho.  Local non-Mormon political and business leaders in the territory and later the state feared LDS political dominance.  Local officials in Idaho worked to disenfranchise Mormons, and Church officials and members were subjected to serious discrimination there in the territorial era and that continued after Idaho became a state. 


In fact some have argued that anti-Mormonism and the effort to limit Mormon influence in Idaho politics was the rallying cause that united Idaho’s non-Mormon northerners and southerners and led to the creation of the state.  One of the state’s most controversial politicians made his political career on anti-Mormonism, and as a U.S. Senator from Idaho, Fred Dubois (R-1891-1897;  D-1901-1907)  was a principal leader in the effort to prevent the seating in the U.S. Senate of Apostle Reed Smoot (“What if the Mormons Hadn’t Come to Idaho?”   “Idaho’s Dirty Little Secret:  Anti-Mormonism;”  and Merle W. Wells, Anti-Mormonism in Idaho, 1872-1896 [Provo, UT:  BYU Press, 1978]).  In fact, although Mormons made up over a quarter of the state’s population, not a single Mormon was elected to the U.S. Congress from Idaho until 1951.


Ironically, since 2011, Idaho has been represented in the U.S. Congress by two LDS representatives, and one of its two U.S. Senators is LDS – three of Idaho’s four congressional representatives are Mormon.   The first Latter-day Saint from Idaho was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1951 (Hamer Harold Budge [R-ID 1951-1961]), and since that time the congressmen (yes, they are all men) from the district including the heavily Mormon area of southeast Idaho has been a Church member.  The first LDS Idaho Senator, Mike Crapo (R-ID  House 1993-1999; Senate 1999-present), was elected just over 20 years ago.  The second concurrent LDS congressman, Raúl Rafael Labrador (R-ID 2011-present) was elected to represent Idaho’s 1st Congressional District just last year.  Senator Crapo is not up for reelection this year, but both House members are running for reelection, and both appear to have a good chance of being reelected.


Redistricting in Idaho resulted in minor shifting of the boundaries between the two congressional districts.  From 2000 to 2010, Idaho’s population grew by 20 percent, but that was not enough growth to give the state a third seat in Congress, so Idaho will continue to have two representatives.  The population, however, increased at a faster rate in the northern and western parts of the state (1st Congressional District), while the south central and southeastern parts of the state (2nd Congressional District) grew more slowly.  The boundary between the two districts shifted farther west so that most of Boise is now included in the 2nd Congressional District.


Mike Simpson – 2nd Congressional District (Southeast Idaho)


Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District congressman is Mike Simpson (R-ID 1999-present), who was first elected to Congress in a contest that pitted Republican Mormon Simpson against Democratic Mormon, Richard Stallings (D-ID 1985-1993), who had previously held that seat in Congress (Wikipedia: Richard H. Stallings).  Stallings gave up his U.S. House seat in an unsuccessful bid for an Idaho U.S. Senate seat in the 1992 election.  That first race for Simpson in 1998 was close – he won with 53% of the vote – but he won the following 6 elections with an average of 68% of the vote in the general election.


Before election to Congress, Simpson was a dentist in Blackfoot, Idaho, and he served 14 years in the Idaho state House of Representatives, the last six years as Speaker.  When Republicans were in control of the U.S. House of Representatives before 2007, Simpson was frequently called upon to serve as “Speaker Pro Tempore” of the U.S. House when particularly difficult legislation was under consideration because of his skill at maintaining order and decorum, thanks to his experience as Speaker of the Idaho House.  Simpson was named to the influential House Appropriations Committee, and he became Ranking Member (2009-2011) and then Chair (2011-present) of the Subcommittee on Interior and Environment (Mike Simpson: Official Congressional Web Site: Biography; Wikipedia: Mike Simpson).


Although Simpson reflects the political conservatism of Idaho and his voting record has been solidly conservative, he has been a pragmatic legislator.  He was recognized by Esquire magazine as one of the ten best members of the Congress in 2008.  Esquire’s description of why he was honored gives a sense of his record:


More than any other representative, Simpson lives by the philosophy that democratic representation is a matter of finding not advantageous positions but common ground; not of manning the ramparts but of parleying to prevent war. Has another member of his party ever joined the ACLU for a fact-finding spell? Has any made a habit of meeting with conservationists to learn their wants and fears? Do any work as he does to temper partisanship in the name of progress? None that we could uncover. His constituents reap the benefits.


Simpson has also been willing to speak out and even ruffle feathers in support of a friend.  After Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) was arrested for “lewd conduct” in a Minneapolis airport men’s room in the summer of 2007 and later pleaded guilty of “disorderly conduct” in that case, there were calls for Craig to resign from the Senate.  Simpson emphasized the ties between his and Craig’s families, and Simpson was harshly critical of the U.S. Senate Republican leadership for its treatment of Craig when a number of other Republican Senators were facing even more serious ethics issues (“Lashing Out at McConnell,” The Hill).


Simpson looks good for reelection based on his previous electoral successes and the fact that in the lightly contested primaries, there were six times the number of votes cast in the Republican primary as in the Democratic primary.


Raúl Labrador – 1st Congressional District (North and Western Idaho)


Congressman Raúl Labrador is the most recently seated Mormon currently serving in the Congress, and he is the first Latter-day Saint to be elected to represent Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, having won the November 2010 election.  He ran for Congress as a Tea Party candidate, and he has been consistent in his ideological leanings since his election, ranking as one of the top ten rated congressional freshmen in the Club for Growth’s conservative ranking.  First term members of Congress (those elected in 2010) number 87 – one of every five members of the House was newly elected in the 2010 election (“Club for Growth says GOP Freshmen not Tea Party Enough,” Roll Call).


Labrador was born in Puerto Rico, but he and his single mother moved to Las Vegas when he was young, and they joined the Church there.  He attended BYU and later received a law degree from the University of Washington School of Law.  He and his wife settled in Idaho, her home state, and he established a law firm with offices in Boise and Nampa.  Before running for Congress, Labrador served in the Idaho House of Representatives (2006-2010).  He is married and has five children (Congressman Raúl Labrador: BiographyWashington Post Politics: Raul Labrador [R-Idaho])


The victory of Labrador in the 2010 Congressional contest in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District was an upset.  The establishment-backed Republican candidate for that Congressional seat was Iraq war veteran Vaughan Ward, who was endorsed by the National Republican Congressional Committee and by Sarah Palin, who came to Idaho to announce her endorsement in a personal appearance.  In addition to Ward and Raúl Labrador, there were three other candidates, one of whom was a State Representative and another was a physician and scientist.  Ward ran a particularly inept campaign in which he plagiarized word-for-word other candidates’ position papers as well as Barak Obama’s speech to the Democratic Convention in 2004.  In a candidate debate, Ward said that Puerto Rico was a country, and it was revealed during the campaign that he did not vote in the 2008 presidential election (TPM: Vaughan Ward: Worst Candidate Ever?  Deseret News: Underdog Mormon Candidate Upsets Idaho GOPHuffington Post: Vaughan Ward, Palin-Endorsed Congressional Candidate, Looses GOP Primary in Idaho).  In the Republican primary election – with five candidates – Labrador upset Ward with 47.6% of the vote over Ward’s 38.9% (Secretary of State of Idaho: May 25, 2010 Primary Election Results).


In the 2010 general election, the incumbent Democrat, Walt Minick (D-ID 2009-2011), was well positioned.  He had established one of the most conservative voting records for any Democrat in Congress – he voted against the 2009 stimulus bill, the Obama Administration’s health care legislation, and the clean energy and security act, all bills strongly supported by other Democrats and by the Obama Administration.  Furthermore, Minnick was the only Democrat to receive a perfect rating from the Club for Growth, a conservative business-oriented organization.  Polling before the election also indicated a decided lead for Minnick – in eight polls conducted between June and October 2010, Minnick bested Labrador in seven, including in the three polls taken less than a month before the election (Wikipedia:  United States House of Representatives elections in Idaho 2010).  But when the votes were tallied on election day, Labrador defeated Minnick by a surprising 51% to 41% (Secretary of State of Idaho:  November 2, 2010 General Election Results).


In Congress Labrador has been outspoken in criticizing the Obama Administration, calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to resign and taking a blast from the Attorney General (TheBlaze: Holder Berates Rep.During Hearing: ‘Maybe this is the Way You do Things in Idaho or Wherever You’re from;’ Idaho Statesman: Facing Holder at hearing, Idaho’s Labrador repeats call for Attorney General to quit ).  He has established one of the most conservative records among House Republicans (“Club for Growth says GOP Freshmen not Tea Party Enough,” Roll CallWashington Post: GOP freshmen = weak tea).  Furthermore, groups on the progressive side of the political spectrum have placed him high on their list of opponents.  People for the American Way, a liberal organization, identified Labrador as one of “The Ten Scariest Republicans Heading to Congress.”


With former Governor Mitt Romney the Republican presidential nominee, Mormonism has been a major topic of conversation this election season.  Most LDS members of Congress have come out in support of Romney and have responded when asked about the religion question, but they generally have not chosen to press the LDS question.  Congressman Labrador appears to be one of the Mormon members of Congress most willing to speak out on religion, and he has been quite vocal in urging Romney to be more vocal on the religion issue.  (Boston Globe: “Media will make Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith a campaign issue, Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador predicts;”  National Journal: “Labrador’s Advice to Romney: Talk about Your Mormon Religion;”  Fox News Latino: “Juan Williams: Latino, Mormon, Tea Party Favorite, Raúl Labrador Stands at Intersection of 2012 Elections.”)


In the November 2012 general election, Labrador will face Democratic congressional nominee Jimmy Farris, a former NFL wide receiver who was born in Lewiston, Idaho, and attended high school there.  Farris played football at the University of Montana and then had a career in the NFL (2001-2007), which included earning a Super Bowl ring in 2002 with the New England Patriots (Jimmy Farris for CongressWikipedia: “Jimmy Farris).


Though Farris has an interesting biography and strong ties to Idaho, running for Congress as a Democrat in Idaho generally has not been a successful career path recently.  Furthermore, Farris narrowly won the Democratic primary in May with only 53% of the vote against an opponent who is mentally ill and facing felony charges (Spokesman-Review: “Eked-out win teaches Idaho Democrat a lesson”).  The raw numbers in the primary also do not bode well for the Democratic candidate.  In the primary, 71,920 votes were cast in the Republican primary (in which Labrador defeated an opponent with 81% of the vote) but only 10,085 votes were cast in the Democratic primary  (Secretary of State of Idaho: May 16, 2012 Primary Election Results).


LDS Democrat Challenger in Wyoming House Race


The Church statistics for 2009 give Wyoming 11.5% Latter-day Saints, over 61,000 in a total population of 533,000 (LDS Church News: Almanac), the third highest percentage of Latter-day Saints of any American State.  Utah is first in percentage of LDS with 68%, Idaho next with 27%, and then Wyoming .  In absolute number, however, Wyoming comes much further down the list, reflecting the fact that Wyoming is dead last in population among the fifty states.


Wyoming’s Mormons are less politically influential than many states with a much smaller percentage of Mormons.  In its history Wyoming has not elected a Mormon to the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.  Nevada with just over half the percentage of Mormons has elected five individuals to House and Senate, and Arizona with half the percentage of Mormons has elected four House and is likely to elect one to the Senate and one to the House this year.  Why have Wyoming Mormons not had a great impact?


Probably the most important factor is that Wyoming’s Mormons are concentrated in the traditional Mormon “ghettos” – the agricultural areas which were settled in the late 19th century by Mormons spreading out from Idaho into Star Valley (Lincoln County) and from Utah into Uinta County and to some extent into Sweetwater County, and the Mormon settlement in the Big Horn Basin in north central Wyoming which was established after the turn of the twentieth century.  Eleven of the sixteen LDS stakes in Wyoming are in these traditional Mormon “ghettos.”  Significantly the new LDS temple announced for Wyoming will be built in Star Valley – the Mormon agricultural settlement that borders Idaho and that is “culturally” more a part of Idaho than a part of Wyoming.  The new “Wyoming” temple is likely to be used more by Mormons from Idaho than those living in Wyoming – for most Wyoming Mormons the nearest temple will still be out of state – Billings, Montana; Fort Collins, Colorado, and Manila or Ogden, Utah.  The result is that Wyoming’s Mormon population is still heavily linked with rural areas and not with areas growing because of government or the state university (Cheyenne, Laramie), the energy industry (Powder River Basin Coal at Gillette and Sheridan) or oil and natural gas development (Casper).


Mormons are represented in the state legislature because representatives are elected from districts with an LDS population, but relatively few Mormons have served in senior state-wide electoral or appointed positions.  Mormons have been cautious in seeking to exercise their influence.  Republican politicians seem to take the Mormon vote for granted, and even when there is an issue of interest to Mormons it has little effect on Mormon votes.  Wyoming’s congressional delegation in Washington opposed legislation to authorize the Church to acquire Martin’s Cove, the site on the Mormon Trail in central Wyoming where Mormon migrants in the Martin and Willie handcart companies were caught in a severe early snow storm in the fall of 1856 as the group were emigrating to Utah.  The Church has turned the area into a pilgrimage site.  Congresswoman Barbara Cubin and Senators Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi strongly opposed the legislation.  In the 2002 election, the vote in Mormon counties for Cubin and Enzi showed no decline, despite their opposition to Church proposals on Martin’s Cove.


Ironically on the two occasions that I am aware of when Latter-day Saint candidates have been involved in a Wyoming congressional race, the candidates were Democrats, not Republicans.  In this year’s election contest for Wyoming’s at-large U.S. House seat, Mormon Chris Henrichsen is the Democratic candidate.  Chris teaches political science at Casper College, a public community college in Casper, Wyoming’s second largest city.  He is a Church member who received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Utah and then taught at BYU, BYU-Idaho and Utah Valley University, before moving to Casper. (Chris for Congress; “Chris Henrichsen” Ballotpedia“Casper Democrat runs for Congress,” Laramie Boomerang; “Henrichsen running for Congress,” Casper Journal.)  The Wyoming House seat is currently held by Cynthia Lummis (R-WY 2009 – present), and unseating her will not be easy.  She won her first congressional election in 2008 with only 52% of the vote, but in her reelection bid in 2010, she received over 70% of the vote.


Henrichsen is not the first Mormon to run statewide for Congress. Mormon Democrat Dale Groutage ran in the U.S. Senate race in 2006. He lost in the general election to incumbent Senator Craig Thomas, who received 70% of the vote in the general election. (“Dale Groutage,” Wikipedia; U.S. Senate Election 2006“Dale Groutage,” Basin Republican Rustler.)




  1. Interestingly enough, despite the high number of Mormons in Idaho and the high number representing the state in Washington D.C., only two have served as governor there. Even more interesting, both of them were Democrats.

    Elder Larry Echo Hawk, now of the Seventy, at one point ran for governor of Idaho. He ran as a Democrat, giving most of the members of the church in Idaho who voted in that election the distinction of voting AGAINST a future general authority.

  2. Larry Echo Hawk was elected to be Attorney General.

  3. Oh, and thank you for the look at my race. I will follow up a bit after Nov. 6.

  4. Good luck Chris H!

  5. #2–True. Just a shame Idaho refused to elect him as governor.

  6. Good luck, Chris! If I voted in your district, I’d vote for you. But I think I’ll stay in my own and vote against Arpaio.

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