PHOENIX – Gov. Janet Napolitano plans to visit Salt Lake City this week to meet with leaders of the Mormon church to learn more about the faith shared by hundreds of thousands of Arizonans.
A Napolitano spokeswoman said the Democratic governor will meet Friday with Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders, including President Gordon B. Hinckley and other members of the three-man First Presidency, a policy-making body that has final authority on all spiritual and worldly matters.
The itinerary for the trip being made at state expense also includes touring church facilities, including Temple Square and the family history library, and being briefed on welfare programs, Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said Monday.
The governor, who was raised as a Methodist but whom L’Ecuyer said now regards herself as a practicing Christian, will be accompanied by three aides, as well as Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles E. Jones and at least two legislators who are Mormon.
“It just made sense to have people who are familiar with the church,” L’Ecuyer said.
L’Ecuyer said the trip evolved from Napolitano’s realization over the summer that she didn’t know much about the Mormon church and its structure and activities in Arizona.
Subsequent discussions within the governor’s office “having to do with the fact that we have so many people in Arizona who are members of the faith” led to phone calls between church officials and the governor’s office, L’Ecuyer said.
The church has a reported 339,900 members in Arizona, with 685 congregations and temples in Mesa and Snowflake.
The state will pay approximately $1,500 for air travel, hotel rooms and meals for Napolitano and her aides while the other officials will pay their own way, L’Ecuyer said.
No meetings are planned with Utah state officials, according to L’Ecuyer. “This is all church-related,” she said.
Mormon church spokesman Dale Bills said he could not immediately say whether church officials have hosted similar visits by other state governors and what benefit church leaders anticipate from Napolitano’s visit.
Jones, a Republican appointed to the Supreme Court in 1996, is going because he has been active in church leadership and can provide introductions, Supreme Court spokesman Tom Augherton said.
Those accompanying Napolitano also include state Sen. Jack Brown, D-St. Johns, and Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, L’Ecuyer said.
The delegation does not include several Mormons who hold top leadership posts in the Legislature’s Republican majorities: Senate President Ken Bennett of Prescott, House Speaker Jake Flake of Snowflake or House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth of Gilbert.
L’Ecuyer had no immediate explanation for those omissions but Napolitano has clashed with those conservative legislators on a variety of issues, especially state spending.
L’Ecuyer said the trip has “nothing whatsoever” to do with Colorado City, a polygamist enclave on Arizona’s border with Utah.
Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, are dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a splinter offshoot of the Mormon Church. The Mormon Church itself disavowed polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice plural marriage.
According to the Mormon church’s Web site, some church members arrived in Arizona with a unit of Mormons preparing to fight in the Mexican-American War in the winter of 1846-47, while others arrived in 1873 after being sent from Utah to colonize the area.