PHOENIX — Gov. Janet Napolitano is making what a top aide calls a “courtesy visit” to the top leaders of the Mormon church.
Friday’s visit to Salt Lake City will include time with Gordon Hinckley, president and prophet of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Napolitano actually is meeting with the “First Presidency,” which actually consists of Hinckley and two top counselors.
Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L’Ecuyer said Napolitano realized this summer that she only knew a limited amount about the religion.
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“A large number of Arizonans who make up the governor’s constituency are LDS,” she said of Napolitano, who is a Methodist. “This is an opportunity for her to learn more about LDS faith, customs and culture.”
The LDS church claims membership of nearly 340,000 out of 5.6 million Arizonans, with 685 congregations and two temples. But LDS members make up a much larger percentage of the state Legislature, including two of the top three Republican leadership positions in both the House and Senate as well as the top Senate Democrat.
Part of the trip is aimed at getting a better understanding of the worldwide welfare and emergency aid system operated by the church.
» Theologically, Mormonism – the so-called ‘Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ is a cult of Christianity.
Given that the theology and practice of the Mormon Church violates essential Christian doctrines, Mormonism does not represent historical, Biblical Christianity, is not a Christian denomination, and is not in any way part of the Christian church.
» Mormon Church news tracker, plus additional research resources
To that end, Napolitano even has invited along Charles Jones, chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. Jones is a former bishop and stake president with the LDS church.
“I was directly involved in the welfare programs of the church,” he said.
Jones said he sees nothing irregular in going on this kind of trip with the governor.
“I know these people,” he said, having met members of the First Presidency.
“There are some issues in life that rise above politics,” added Jones, a Republican.
Gubernatorial aide Brent Brown said Napolitano will get a full tour of Welfare Square, the church’s worldwide headquarters of its welfare efforts.
“In today’s post 9/11, it’s good for her to know the worldwide emergency preparedness program the church has,” said Brown.
Part of that includes Deseret Industries which provides work for people who are handicapped. But the church also has storehouses “where people who are out of work and need help can go and get food commodities,” said Brown.
There are four sites in Arizona.
Church spokesman Dale Bills said the program traces its roots to the depths of the Depression in the 1930s. It also includes a bakery, dairy processing and a cannery.
Napolitano also has a separate meeting with a group of church bishops who make up the administrative arm of the church. Brown said one item on the agenda is seeing if efforts can be coordinated to get a site in Winslow the church considers the first Mormon settlement in Arizona placed on the National Register of Historic Places. And she is set to meet with the three women who oversee church scriptural education, to talk issues of early childhood education.
The governor also will get a tour of the Temple grounds as well as the church’s genealogical library
There is one non church-related event on the governor’s itinerary: a meeting with business leaders who make up Envision Utah. That group is involved with coming up with a growth strategy plan for Salt Lake, including preservation and transportation.
The trip is expected to cost about $1,500 for Napolitano and her aides. Others on the trip will pay their own way.
Among that group are two state lawmakers who are members of the church: Sen. Jack Brown, D-St. Johns, and Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford.
Not included are either of the top GOP legislative leaders, both of whom are members of the church.
Senate President Ken Bennett said he had not heard about it until getting a call from Capitol Media Services for a comment. He was a bit bemused at the snub.
“I don’t know why she would think of calling the LDS president (of the Senate) or speaker of the House related to a visit to the president of the LDS church,” he chuckled. “I don’t know why that would cross somebody’s mind.”