A young Mormon Democrat in Utah hopes new group sparks change

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Craig Janis, a 28-year-old technology entrepreneur, is a rare species. He’s a Mormon Democrat in Utah, a state where only 7% of Mormons are Democrats.

Janis’ shift from Republican to a Democrat began in college, but four years ago, he wanted to like Mitt Romney The idea of a fellow Mormon, one who reminded him of church leaders of his youth, winning the White House tugged at Janis’ heart.

Janis said he respected Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, when he passed a universal healthcare bill. But Janis says Romney has shifted steadily to the right since then, and has embraced positions that are no longer moderate.


PHOTOS: 2012 Democratic National Convention

“If he were to be elected president, I would want him to come back to where he was when he was governor,” Janis said. “If President Romney is the same as Gov. Romney, then we’re OK as a country. … But I’m worried he can’t do that. I’m worried it’s politically impossible for him to do that.”

It was a message that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democrats’ most prominent Mormon, emphasized to a group Janis helped start, Utah’s first Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Democrats Caucus, hours before the Democratic National Convention opened here Tuesday.

Reid compared the GOP candidate unfavorably to his late father, George Romney, who was governor of Michigan and a failed candidate for president. “George Romney in 1964 took on the Republicans at the convention because he thought they had lost their moderation,” Reid told the group.

PHOTOS: Protests of the Democratic National Convention

Reid recalled taking his family to church and being told by his son that a high school friend had urged him to join the Young Republicans.

“My son said, ‘I can’t. I’m a Democrat.’ And the [other] boy responded, ‘I didn’t know Mormons could be Democrats,’” Reid recalled. “I wish that was a joke, but it’s true. For 30 years I’ve been trying to change that perception.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gotten involved in political issues in recent years, with the church openly backing California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, and urged its members to volunteer for the cause.

In Arizona, state Sen. Russell Pearce championed a bill that became the country’s toughest law against illegal immigrants. The law proved popular with many Arizona conservatives, including Mormons, but Pearce lost his seat to a more moderate Mormon Republican.

Janis said his decision to become a Democrat hinged in large part in a belief that the Republican party was increasingly pushing beliefs that conflicted with ideas of charity that came from scripture and from Janis’ own missionary work with the poor in Brazil.

“Now it’s a virtue to be greedy and look after oneself,” he said.

Janis’ wife, Kaitlin, 26, said he became so politically involved that he gave her a test when they decided to get married. “When we were engaged he made me take a political spectrum exam, and we actually fell pretty close to each other,” she said with a laugh.

She enjoyed Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention. But she said she’s troubled by his shift from previous positions, something her husband echoed.

“I feel like part of what has turned me off about Mitt Romney, even though I want to like him, is that my political views come from my religious views,” he said. “So to me, the idea of flipping a switch and saying, ‘Well, now I don’t believe this anymore because it’s politically inconvenient.’ That would be hard for me to do.”

Since the Democrats Caucus got started in Utah with just 12 members last year, more than 2,000 people have joined. Janis said he fervently hopes President Obama is reelected. But he entertains a fantasy scenario if Romney wins.

“He’ll say, ‘I’ve just been kidding to get elected. I’m actually this centrist, nice guy,’” Janis said with a chuckle. “Then I would cheer him on and renounce my previous opposition.”

But he’d still be a Democrat, he said.
Twitter: @LATimesHekutor