12 Questions with Senator Robert F. Bennett

Our next installment of the 12 Questions series will be with Robert F. Bennett, the junior Senator from Utah. Senator Bennett, a Republican, was elected to the Senate in 1992. As Assitant Majority Whip, he is a member of the Republican leadership. Prior to his election, he was a business man, PR executive, lobbyist, and Congressional staffer. His own father, Wallace F. Bennett, served as Senator from Utah in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. He served his mission in Scotland, is a former bishop, and currently attends the Arlington Ward of the McLean, Virginia Stake. Senator Bennett has agreed to discuss Mormonism and politics. Please post your questions.

25 comments for “12 Questions with Senator Robert F. Bennett

  1. Kaimi
    February 21, 2005 at 12:35 am

    Great 12Q guest, Nate. This promises to be a very interesting interview.

    Here are a few thoughts for possible questions:

    1. How does your Mormomonism affect your political choices? Is it ever appropriate to make political choices because of religious beliefs? If so, when? (And how can one tell if/when this is appropriate?) How do you deal with this issue in your own life?

    2. I sometimes hear statements by church members reflecting a generally negative attitude towards politics and the political system. Have you found that Mormons as a group are particularly anti-political or jaded? And is Mormon political belief (whether jaded or not) appropriate, in your view? (i.e., should Mormons either be more cynical, or less cynical, about politics?). And if Mormon attitudes are not appropriate, how could attitudes be made more appropriate?

    3. As the sole non-lawyer among the ranks of Mormon senators, do you think that you bring a different perspective to the Senate? Do you consider yourself to be at a disadvantage in analyzing legal issues? On the flip side, do you ever feel that the legal training of other LDS senators restricts their thought process?

    4. What is your relationship like with Senator Reid? Do you feel that you can work together with him on projects, despite his party affiliation, because you share a common religious background? Or does that become a minor factor compared to the differences in party platforms? Does party loyalty come first, so to speak, or religious loyalty? Do you feel that you have more in common with a Republican non-Mormon, or a Democrat Mormon?

  2. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 1:08 am

    We sometimes hear parents tell a child, “You should know better.” The more knowledge you have, the greater your accountability, the parent is saying. By the same token, the Mormon revelations are filled with knowledge about the United States. Although those words are never mentioned, Mormons read words like “this nation” and “this land” to mean the U.S. We believe God has given us important information about the land and the people who will inhabit it (e.g. 2 Ne 26-28; Ether 2, 8; Mormon 7-9). Does that knowledge make Mormons more accountable politically than any other American citizens? If much is given to Mormons, is more required of them than the average U.S. citizen?

    Are religious liberties and civil liberties fundamentally at odd with one another? Do you see any cause for concern about Mormon doctrinal positions being threatened by civil liberties?

  3. annegb
    February 21, 2005 at 2:34 am

    Wow, you guys, great questions. I think there’s about 30 questions in there, but oh, well, go for it.

    I met Senator Bennett a couple of times, once in St. George when I was trying to get his support for legislation in military death investigations, long story. He’s a real gentleman. His staff is pretty good, too, I got to know a lot of staffers and to know that you don’t get anywhere with the senator unless you reach the staff. Senator Hatch’s staff, not so good.

  4. Derek
    February 21, 2005 at 3:27 am

    Editor/T&S readers: would it be acceptable to ask Senator Bennett to fill out his NPAT? (This would be perhaps a “will you” question and not necessarily related to Mormonism, but the results would help us understand him by means of his positions on key issues.)

  5. Keith
    February 21, 2005 at 4:12 am

    I’ve often heard that there are some good friendships among law-makers who may be of vastly different political persuasions (I’ve often heard that Senators Hatch and Kennedy get along well, for instance–at least of the floor). Is this true? Has this been your experience? What sort of difference has your being a Latter-day Saint made with respect to your friendships, social interactions, etc. with other Members of Congress and folks in Washington D.C. in general?

  6. Doug Spencer
    February 21, 2005 at 8:24 am

    Just a few ideas:

    1. Utah’s political landscape is oftentimes criticized for its lack of independence from the monolithic influence of the LDS Church. Whatever the case may be, it seems that any successful candidate must be (and has been for several years) a member of the Church. How do you think this affects/hinders the political process?

    2. Any thoughts on the identity of Deep Throat? :)

  7. Matt Evans
    February 21, 2005 at 9:38 am

    1. To what degree should Mormon citizens support Mormon politicians, and to what degree should Mormon citizens disregard a politician’s religion and look solely at their positions and votes? Stated similarly, should Mormon Republican senators work with “Brother Reid” differently than they would with another Democratic leader, and if so, in what ways?

  8. February 21, 2005 at 10:12 am

    Do you have any other Mormon politicians, historical or contemporary, that you look to as ideals?

  9. February 21, 2005 at 10:42 am

    In what ways do you wish members of the Church were more active politically? Are there causes, issues, etc., in which you wish there was more political involvement?

    How, apart from voting, can the average citizen best influence the political process and make a positive difference?

  10. February 21, 2005 at 11:31 am

    Senator Bennett:

    In the interest of full disclosure: I worked for the Wayne Owens campaign the year you beat Owens and assumed your first term as senator. And I must say, most of the people in the campaign were glad to have lost to you rather than Joe Cannon or even the other democratic candidate, Doug Anderson. Cannon was assumed to be the frontrunner before the primaries, partly because of the unprecedented and frankly obscene amount of money he was spending on the campaign. In the mean time, Anderson (unsuccessfully) challenged Owens for the Democratic candidacy in a slanderous media battle that left a nasty taste in everyone’s mouth. While we were disappointed, of course (and with all due respect), that Owens didn’t go on to beat you, we took some consolation in the fact that you had managed to stay above the fray for the most part, and had run a post-primary campaign that avoided the pot-shots the Utah GOP had so often taken at Owens.

    So, my question: after a campaign that turns ugly and mean-spirited we often hear people making fence-mending gestures with resigned phrases like “That’s how the game works,” or “It’s just politics,” etc. President Bush is said to have said something like this to Senator Reid over dinner after the GOP released its pointed statement on Reid. We also especially hear this after party primaries, when candidates are at each others’ throats for the nomination one day and endorsing each other the next. John McCain, for example, comes to mind, as does the phrase “voodoo economics,” which, as I recall, G.H.W. Bush coined to disparage Reaganomics. At what point does a politician have to reject this kind of win-at-all-cost relativism and insist that in politics there are certain means that just don’t justify even the noblest ends?

  11. Wilfried
    February 21, 2005 at 11:50 am

    I am interested in the help US senators can provide on the international scene when it comes to protecting religious minorities. The past decade has seen an ugly resurgence of measures aimed at limiting religious freedom, even in so-called democratic nations. For us Mormons, it pertains to limitations on entry visa for missionaries and on building permits, or to protection in civil matters like attribution of children in divorce cases. Or cases where Mormon parents are forbidden to adopt a child because they belong to a “cult”, etc. I understand US senators have helped in the past in these issues, but there always is the problem of undue meddling in the internal affairs of a foreign State. What is your experience in these matters? How can US political influence be used to help the Church, and other minorities, abroad?

  12. February 21, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    Jeremy, you worked with Wayne Owens? Small world. I was part of that circle too. I wonder if we ever met, way back then.

    Senator Bennett, when Elder Marlin Jensen gave his 1998 interview which suggested that the “it’s not in our best interest to be known as a one-party church,” and expressed regret at the decline of the Democratic Party in Utah and “the notion that may prevail in some areas that you can’t be a good Mormon and a good Democrat at the same time,” the reaction of Utah’s Republican delegation was mixed. Representative Hansen, for one, questioned the basic truthfulness of Elder Jensen’s comments; it was his opinion that, given the current platform of the Democratic party, there really is an incompatibility between supporting the church and supporting the Democratic party. What do you think? I know it’s an old question, but that’s just because it hasn’t yet been (and perhaps cannot be) settled to anyone’s satisfaction. Can you make, or do you ever make, a “Mormon case” for being Republican (revolving around same-sex marriage, abortion, etc.)? Do you think an equally Mormon case for being a Democrat (perhaps revolving around war, social justice, etc.) can be made? If you don’t, would that mean that you think Hansen’s critique of Elder Jensen was basically correct?

  13. Christian Cardall
    February 21, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Were you Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate Source (Deep Throat)?

  14. Shawn Bailey
    February 21, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    What kind of consultation (if any) with church authorities do you consider appropriate in the formation of policy? For example, would you talk (or have you talked) with a general authority regarding the church’s position regarding something like stem cell research prior to deciding where you stand? Or are you left to your own interpretation of church statements when you want to pursue policies not inconsistent with beliefs common to you and many of your constituents?

  15. danithew
    February 21, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    LOL. If the revelation of Deep Throat’s identity came out on this blog, it would turn the Bloggernacle into mainstream news. Kaimi, you better sign up for a lot more bandwidth.

  16. Shawn Bailey
    February 21, 2005 at 2:02 pm

    I was an editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle (the University of Utah’s student newspaper for all you poor past and present Daily Universe readers), and if I remember correctly what I saw in the “chrony archives” (a haphazard stack of old bound volumes in the back room), you were too once upon a time.

    More than anything else, my experience as a believing Mormon at the U and as a Chrony editor aroused my interest in the politics of church and state. I became keenly interested in the treatment the church recieved in the classroom and on campus. Such treatment was often hostile and rarely thoughtful. I also noticed that there was an interesting subtext to the politics of higher education funding in Utah: would a state legislature dominated by conservative mormon politicians pour more and more money into an institution that was percieved as hostile to the church?

    Is this the same University of Utah that you attended? If so, did your experience there inform your approach to the church-state issues that a politician elected by the people of Utah must understand and negotiate well? Or were things different back then? Are there other insights from your background that inform your view of church-state politics (in Utah or in general)? Have church-state politics in Utah or the country in general changed since your days as a hill staffer–or when your father served as the Senator from Utah?

  17. Dan Richards
    February 22, 2005 at 12:05 am

    Is it really possible to be a faithful Mormon and a Republican?

  18. February 22, 2005 at 1:19 am

    Here are my questions.

    1. What do you think of Mitt Romney’s position on stem cells.

    2. Do you think any Mormon would have a chance of winning the presidential bid, given the place Evangelicals hold in the Republican party? (Well, perhaps a Democrat Mormon?) It seems that many Evangelicals, despite having somewhat similar political beliefs, still hold to conspiracy theories about Mormons.

    3. Do you think missionaries will be able to enter Afghanistan anytime soon? Has the church looked at that issue?

    4. What are your thoughts on term limits?

  19. A Edwards
    February 22, 2005 at 3:03 am

    I understand, Senator Bennett, that some jokingly speak of a Mormon Caucus in Washington. To what extent do LDS politicians interact and discuss legislative issues? Is there, in your view, space within the political landscape for a uniquely LDS “think tank”/”working group”/”what have you” to examine the multiple facets of issues before the legislature in a consistent, Gospel-centered way? Would such a beast be appropriate or advisable?

    Thanks for your insights!

    PS — I worked on the Owens campaign, too. Tough room, Senator!

  20. A. Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 4:27 am

    What would be your advice to Mormons wanting to do good in their community and get involved?
    What would be your advice to Mormon Republicans wanting to do good in their community and get involved?

    We often talk about voting for people of good character. What sort of character is most desirable in a political leader? If you had to rank them, where would you put Integrity, Courage, Faith, Hope, Temperance, Compassion, Judgment, Humility, Vision (or any other qualities you think work mentioning?) Is a candidate’s character more important than his political beliefs? Do political beliefs still matter? Does the office make a difference (the presidency vs. the Senate vs. the House)? Lets toughen the question a little. If one candidate has views that are badly wrong but the other has real character problems, what should I do?

    What good are political parties?

    What lessons have you learned from the Founding Fathers?

    Mormon Republicans tie their faith to their politics on social issues like abortion, divorce, and gay marriage. Mormon Democrats tie their faith to their politics on social justice and equality issues like welfare. What political issue do you think Mormons ought to use their faith and values to think about but largely haven’t? Conversely, what gospel principle with political implications has been most ignored?

    What kinds of interfaith contacts have you had in Washington?

  21. A. Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 4:30 am

    Can you confirm that you’re the tallest Mormon politician?

  22. February 22, 2005 at 7:06 am

    For what it’s worth, just to make sure the issue is addressed, my question (#12), Dan’s (#17), and Adam’s fifth question (#20), are all essentially the same.

    Good grief Aldo, I’d forgotten you volunteered for Owens too. Did we ever work together? I can’t remember. I didn’t do much, since I was technically a reporter at the time, but I was always around.

  23. HL Rogers
    February 22, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Any lingering anti-Mormonism in the Senate?

  24. February 22, 2005 at 5:09 pm

    1. Could you talk about the thought process that led to your running for political office?

    2. I’m very concerned about the rising national deficit and its long-term effects on the boomer generation’s children and grandchildren. Politically I usually think of myself as a Democrat but consider myself a fiscal conservative (no cracks about that being an oxymoron please!) in the tradition of my thrifty Mormon ancestors. It seems that Congress is far too willing to pass popular pieces of legislation with no means to pay for them other than to delay the costs to future generations. Are my worries misplaced or do we need to address our nation’s addiction to deficit spending–and if so, what concrete steps is Congress taking?

    An example of government spending (arguably only tangentially related to the above paragraph, but since one dollar is fungible with another I don’t subscribe to the idea that trust-funded entitlement programs shouldn’t be part of the debate) that particularly irks me: the Medicare bill was initially given a price tag of $395 billion over ten years but from the day of its passage insiders knew that the actual costs would be far higher. That figure was subsequently revised to $534 billion. The Bush administration currently estimates that the bill will cost $720 billion over the next decade. It is my understanding that the initial estimate and the $534 billion estimate was for the years 2004-2013 and that the third number is for the years 2006-2015 when the bill will be phased in. Whether you use the second or third estimate, however, I can’t help feeling that a bait-and-switch tactic was used that delayed acknowledging the full cost of a program so that the bill will have enough support to become law (is it true that key Republican support would have been withheld had the true costs been acknowledged?) and future generations will be left to sort out the details. I know that you voted for the Medicare bill and may feel that I am linking two unrelated issues, but in my mind cost revision seems to have become something of a habit directly related to an increasing deficit. A hundred billion here and a hundred billion there and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

  25. February 22, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    I should note that my questions don’t have much to do w/ Mormonism, but I would like to hear answers to them anyway..

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