Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Judge and the Book of Mormon ... OR ... How NOT to Raise Funds

A conservative candidate for Judge in Clark County Nevada – a good man (and not a Mormon) has made a potentially election-killing decision.  He’s tied a major campaign fund-raiser to the Book of Mormon. 

More on that in a minute.

Sure, there are more Mormons in Clark County Nevada (home to Las Vegas) than you can shake a stick at.  For a century and more, casino owners have been glad to hire Mormons as dealers – they’re honest with their employers, and (the word is) they have no compunction about cheating the heathens.  I may have that wrong – I may be referring to Jack Mormons – lapsed Mormons who nonetheless hold onto major of the faith’s tenets.  But that’s really beside the point. Anyway, casinos are Mormon-friendly employers – however, even without casinos, this would be Mormon Central. Just down I-15 from Utah, Clark County was first settled (other than by the Paiutes) by Mormon settlers who built the Old Mormon Fort not a half-mile from what is now Las Vegas’s Fremont Street Experience.

However, for every Mormon in Clark County, you’ll find at least one non-Mormon who’s all but fed up with their door-to-door evangelism – not to mention the arrogance of mere children who arrogantly believe that they can teach their elders something about a life they have yet to live. 

Taking it a step further, there are more than a few Clark Countians who live in fear of Mormon bosses – one of my closest friends has a Mormon boss, and he lives in fear of being the only executive on the department’s team who isn’t at least nominally a Mormon.  Harassment isn’t too strong a word, and while I doubt if this is “official” LDS policy, it happens – just as does “shunning” of non-Mormons by neighbors in heavily-Mormon communities (that I can speak to from personal experience).

But that’s not really the point.  In fact, the Mormon faith isn’t even the point.

The point is that politics and religion don’t mix – they never have. It’s only worse when the religion is controversial.

Any religious faith, if pushed hard in a political campaign, can become polarizing.  Even a fairly neutral belief such as conservative or reformed Judaism, or mainstream protestant Christianity, even these can become polarizing in a political campaign.  Bring in a controversial faith – be it the late Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” or pretty much anything having to do with Islam, the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses (to name a few), and you’re going to polarize a segment of the political electorate.

Polarizing the political electorate means driving potential voters away – for reasons having nothing to do with the qualification of the candidate.  Jack Kennedy lost votes because he was a public and believing Catholic. Mitt Romney lost votes because he was so closely identified with his Mormon faith.  Joe Lieberman, a great and good man (for a liberal), lost votes because he was well-known to be a faithful Orthodox Jew.  In an election that close, his faith might have been the difference between President Bush and President Gore.

Is any of that right?  Of course not.  Even, “Hell, no!” 

But it is very much human nature, which is why every savvy politician who wants to win tries to avoid “taking sides” in a religious debate. They recognize that any such debate will only hurt them with some voters. 

At least if it’s the candidate’s own faith, most do better by embracing their faith than to be seen running from it.

But when a candidate makes religion an issue – and the faith isn’t his own – that’s just a bad political choice.

Enter this conservative candidate for judge, this good man who’s not even a Mormon.

Today he posted on the Facebook discussion group “Clark County Politics” a fund-raising promotion.  It reads:

“Donate to ____ 4 Judge between now and May 15, 2014, and WIN 2 BOX SEAT TICKETS FOR THE PRIMARY ELECTION NIGHT SHOWING OF THE BOOK OF MORMON.  Support ____4Judge and win a chance to see the most popular show of the year with him on Primary Election night.”

Ignoring the poor grammar and punctuation, here’s the kicker.  Apparently, THE BOOK OF MORMON he’s referring to is a Broadway stage show, and a touring company of the play will be in Las Vegas on primary election night.  Not being a fan of Broadway shows, this was all news to me.  But if I’d known that, it wouldn’t change my negative reaction to this.

All I knew was when I saw the promotion on the website, I saw THE BOOK OF MORMON and a photo of one of the Mormon teen-boy missionaries, nametag, white shirt, white socks and black tie – book in hand – on the promotion.  I didn’t read the fine print about it being a Broadway show.   

All I did was see this message, then react immediately and viscerally to it. Seeing the promotion but not really reading it (yet), I knew I had no desire to win a copy of the Book of Mormon – so the “incentive” offered nothing to me. More to the point, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what a non-Mormon and otherwise reasonable conservative candidate for judge was doing pushing a minority and clearly controversial faith – let alone doing so in the midst of a purely secular election.

So I asked him, and he explained that it was a popular show, and a good fund-raising incentive.  Frankly, I wasn’t buying it.

Then another conservative climbed into the conversation, noting that “this big hit Broadway play was prepared by liberal play producers in anticipation of Mitt Romney’s presidential run in 2012 – I’m surprised that you are not sensitive to the derogatory impact …” 

I don’t know if that’s true. Imagine – liberals wanting to mock a Republican presidential candidate – hard to believe, isn’t it? 

However, whatever the play is supposed to do or say or be, I do know this.  If two conservatives – well-known local activists who both were prepared to support this candidate’s run for judge reacted this badly, and for completely different reasons – then this has to be a bad idea.

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