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Posts published in “Day: May 20, 2009”

The nonpartisan BYU-I

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormon church, has for many years been officially neutral in contests between the Republican and Democratic parties. It has also specifically encouraged members to become involved socially and politically - running for office and supporting candidates never has been a bad thing in the view of LDS leadership.

Reconciliation of that together with another fact has over the years proven exceedingly tough: The fact that Mormons are, overwhelmingly, Republican. Some visible exceptions (Nevada Senator Harry Reid, new Indian Affairs director Larry EchoHawk among them) notwithstanding.

So you can more or less see where the leadership of Brigham Young University-Idaho (at Rexburg) was coming from when it declared that student political clubs, the College Republicans and the College Democrats, would be no more, a story that hit nationally in the last few days. A statement from the university: "We are trying to ensure that BYU-Idaho is a politically neutral campus. As a private institution and being affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we feel that it is in the best interest of our university to be politically neutral."

A review in the Rexburg Standard-Journal of the history of the two clubs suggests that interest in them, both, seemed to decline in the last decade. One of the long-time advisors for the Republican group remarked that "in his opinion BYU-Idaho may have the appearance to outsiders of a solely Republican campus. 'The one-sided appearance worries the school more than the reality of having one of each party,' said [Professor Ron] Nate. 'If one group is always stronger, always more populated and always more active, then it can give the appearance of a non-neutral campus.'"

And that may be what the administration was getting at. But the perception won't go away because the party groups do; it doesn't take much to look at the voting returns from the Rexburg precincts to see where the winds blow. Probably more people were surprised that a Democratic organization existed at BYU-I at all, than at the Republican strength there.

The party backers and members won't be going away. But the backers of the minority group may abruptly find they have few avenues left for associating easily with people of like mind, something that won't be so much a question for those in the majority.