Politics Over Principle
Imagine my shock the other Sunday when I picked up the Arizona Republic and there it was on the front page (above the fold, even): "Polygamist sect target of Arizona-Utah inquiry."
Arizona's largest daily newspaper was following John Dougherty's groundbreaking New Times stories on a Mormon polygamist sect in northern Arizona and southern Utah that has forced underage girls into sexual slavery for generations (this is Islam with an X rating).
The subhead read: "For decades, allegations of child abuse, forced marriage, incest and misuse of public money fell on deaf ears."
Finally, I thought, the Republic follows an obviously important story broken by New Times and gives it major treatment. (Trust me, this never happens; the Gannett-owned institutional daily would sooner cancel its Fall Foliage Guide or ax its 100 More Reasons to Read the Republic than chase news originally published in this loathsome rag.)
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Looking at that prominent play and those headlines, you had to figure that reporters Joseph A. Reaves and Mark Shaffer must have broken new ground, come up with juicy new details, gotten a scoop. You know -- as we in the news business like to say -- advanced the story.
After all, high in the opening article, leading off a series of bulleted highlights, we're told (20th Century Fox music please!): "The Arizona Republic has found" that young men are forced out of the fundamentalist Mormon communities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, to pave the way for old men to marry multiple teenage brides. A sidebar on same accompanied the page-one piece.
Of course -- since Dougherty had reported that very information ad infinitum back on March 13 -- I started scanning the Republic for acknowledgement that we'd been the first news medium to hugely examine the sexual and financial abuses of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or FLDS) based in Colorado City.
Shazam, it wasn't there!
But, truth be told, we at New Times were ecstatic that the Republic published its takeoff on Dougherty's work. The more exposure this problem gets, the greater the likelihood that our head-in-the-dust governor/former attorney general will strike a match under state law enforcement to bust the child-raping deadbeat dads in the polygamous society north of the Grand Canyon.
Come on, folks, Governor Janet Napolitano's supposed to be a feminist, but about all she's done to prove it is get Squaw taken off a mountain and the 51 freeway so it could be renamed for a Native American woman who made a wrong turn in Iraq and got killed.
Oh, I almost forgot, she's also pushing for state Child Protective Services reforms, but only after discovering 31 dead kids, many of whose cases she should have dealt with as attorney general.
On the polygamy front, Governor, try getting in touch with your inner public-servant self and stop worrying about whether powerful Mormons in the state might scuttle your political career. I'm saying, start acting like you give a damn about the sexual abuse of underage girls, not to mention the rifling of public coffers to support the rampant practice in Polyg Land (almost every gigantic fundamentalist family in Colorado City's on relief; there are no jobs up there to speak of, except ones funded by Arizona taxpayers and the federal government).
It's hard to figure what Napolitano hopes to gain by keeping her perm down. No self-respecting Mormon in the Legislature, Mesa or elsewhere is going to support a Bill Clinton in Janet Reno clothing anyhow.
But back to the Republic for a minute. If its editors had half a brain, they'd banish Reaves and Shaffer to the Buckeye bureau for failing to turn up even a scrap of important new information. The duo regurgitated in their clip-job (a month or two in the making) that attorneys general in both Utah and Arizona are looking into FLDS members' misuse of public school funds and alleged welfare fraud. But if you want to find out what all that's actually about, you'll have to check out New Times' Polygamy in Arizona series, because there's not an iota of elaboration on it in the Republic. Next time, guys, you've got my permission to publish our Web site address, www.phoenixnewtimes.com, so that Republic readers can figure out what in the hell you're talking about.
I could go on about how too many of the victims telling horror stories in the Republic article had already been profiled in our pages, but I'll just say this: Reaves and Shaffer puckered up to Governor Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard by insinuating that the state's taking bold action against the criminals in the fundamentalist Mormon enclave. It hasn't.
Viewpoint pieces written by Shurtleff and Goddard on the same day as the Republic's polygamy package make clear the differences in the way things have been done in Arizona -- and the way they're getting done in Utah.
While Goddard whined about how hard it is to get witnesses from Colorado City to testify against their abusers -- the same line he and Napolitano have been mouthing for many months -- Shurtleff not only declared war on the fundamentalist child abusers in Hildale in his column, he vowed to go after FLDS welfare cheats. (This just in: The Republic gave Goddard another wet tongue kiss to the ear in its Monday, October 6, editions. It editorialized that Arizonans should "applaud" him, along with Shurtleff, for decisive action in Colorado City and that Goddard had shown "good judgment" in dealing with the polygamy controversy.)
As for the difficulty of getting testimony from women indoctrinated from birth to be subservient to all men . . . no question. But Shurtleff managed to get a conviction of FLDS member and Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm, who lives in Hildale, by a jury of Holm's peers. Holm's third wife, who bore him two children before she turned 18, testified against the cop, and he was convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor. His sentencing was scheduled for October 10, a day after this edition of New Times hit the streets.
Several people close to the polygamy investigation on both sides of the state line accused Goddard and Napolitano of playing politics with the lives of the young females trapped in the fundamentalist world. Despite the fact that far more abuse victims live on the Arizona side of the Mormon enclave, they noted, the AG and governor are doing little more than hanging on to Shurtleff's tow rope.
Shurtleff didn't answer directly when I asked him if he thinks Goddard and Napolitano are water-skiing behind him -- letting him take all the political risks in Mormon-dominated Utah, before taking any real action on this side of the state border. But he used the question as an opportunity to relate an interesting story.
He and Goddard recently met with public officials in the Colorado City-Hildale area and talked with local law enforcement about a legal strategy for dealing with the widespread abuses by the polygamists. "Do you know who Dan Barlow is?" Shurtleff asked, referring to the mayor of Colorado City and a major polygamist leader. "Well, when Terry came up here, Dan Barlow picked him up at the airport and shuttled him around the area."
The Utah AG said Barlow, whose family members have been among a chosen few running things in the fundamentalist society for decades, had been bragging before the visit that he and Goddard were friends. "I asked Terry about that later," Shurtleff related, "and he said they had gotten to know each other when he was mayor of Phoenix."
Critics claim Shurtleff's only interested in busting polygamists as a steppingstone to the governor's office, but he seems to be making more enemies than friends in high places in Utah. He said he has gotten no public backing from mainstream Mormons in the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (or LDS). "The church hasn't issued a statement of public support," he said, wryly. "Every now and then, somebody [from within the church hierarchy] will tell me privately they are behind me, but pretty much [polygamy's] treated as a dirty little secret [in Utah]."
He said the Utah legislature and governor have been generally supportive of his efforts. "But I really don't care what anybody thinks. I couldn't sleep at night if we didn't do something about [the predatory behavior] against women and children that we're told is going on. You don't know the half of it."
Shurtleff's not admitting to any aspirations for higher office, but he said he takes heart in the guilty verdict in the Holm case as an indication of grassroots support for his crusade.
When I talked to him, he was in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was trying to persuade Geoff Plant, the province's attorney general, to get tough on polygs in the BC outback. Shurtleff wants Plant to help him stop the shuttling back and forth of young girls between the polygamous community of Bountiful, British Columbia, and the Colorado City-Hildale area. "They're trading these girls," Shurtleff said. (The idea, our New Times stories have pointed out, is to freshen up the breeding stock.) He also planned to talk to Winston Blackmore, fundamentalist bishop of Bountiful, about testifying against FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs, who just recently ordered church property foreclosed on in the remote Canadian outpost.
"There's dissension between them," said Shurtleff, who makes no secret of his desire to prosecute Jeffs, the spiritual leader of the FLDS faith. "I don't mind saying that I want to bring charges against Warren Jeffs." Utah birth records show that Jeffs, who has more than a dozen wives, is the father of children from at least two mothers who appear to have been impregnated prior to their 18th birthdays.
"We've been trying to serve subpoenas for records on [Jeffs] at his compound [in Hildale], but so far we haven't been able to get past the barricades," he said, adding that members of the God Squad, an armed force of zealots that protect the prophet, have been confronting his agents as a scare tactic.
"They aren't so much trying to scare us as they are trying to scare the [female victims] in the community by showing them how they are standing up to law enforcement," Shurtleff said.
"Mark Shurtleff is taking the bull by the horns," said a source close to the investigation of Colorado City that was initiated by Napolitano when she was AG and has gone next to nowhere. "Terry Goddard is looking at going after the polygamists on the school front. That they have misused state money. But I don't think that will even happen until he and Janet see what comes of Shurtleff's investigation. They're letting that do-gooder take the heat so they don't have to."
Napolitano, more than Goddard, is worried that if it all came to an armed conflict and some children or innocent people were injured or killed, "she would lose out politically," the official said. She doesn't want to be compared to Janet Reno on a Waco front or on any other. "She's just hoping that [the Colorado City story] will all blow over. She's more interested in advancing [in politics] than helping some poor girls in a remote corner of the state."
Like her hero, Bill Clinton, she's the consummate politician above all else.
That powerful Mormon pols like Arizona House Speaker Jake Flake, Congressman Jeff Flake, State House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth, State Senate President Ken Bennett and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Russell Pearce abound doesn't make it any easier for Napolitano or Goddard.
Nobody wants to bite these hands, the source said. "If you ask people like the Flakes what they think of the polygamists, they will [condemn them]. But you don't see [the Flakes] making public statements against the polygamists for raping little girls. And you don't see LDS members renouncing [polygamy masterminds] Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. [The mainstream religion still holds that] a lot of wives is man's reward in the Celestial Kingdom."
When New Times published its third major story on abuses in the polygamist community, headlined "Eyes Wide Shut," Napolitano's staff was livid. The article outlined how the governor failed to push the polygamy probe while she was AG and has continued the posture as governor. (The cover illustration for that piece, a caricature of the governor hiding a fornicating polygamist under her skirt, accompanies this column.)
"Eyes Wide Shut" sparked the following e-mail exchange among Napolitano staff members -- including former press secretary Kris Mayes, whom Janet recently appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission to replace Jim Irvin. Let's just pray it isn't evidence of that politics-over-principle philosophy in the governor's office alluded to above.
"Just wanted to make sure you both saw the New Times article about Colorado City and the picture on the front cover. . . . Do you think this renders a response of some sort? The picture on the front is really terrible," Kelly Ward, in charge of Special Projects for Women in the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, wrote to Mayes and Paul Alvin, whom Napolitano promoted to the top media-relations spot when Mayes, a former Republic reporter, received her eyebrow-raising advance.
"Also, FYI -- the Mohave County attorney they criticize heavily in the article, Bill Ekstrom, is on the Governor's Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women."
Do tell, Kelly! And way to care about the rights of the women you serve. Never occurred to you, eh, to recommend to the governor that Ekstrom be freakin' removed? (In "Eyes Wide Shut," Dougherty demonstrated that Ekstrom is all but in the pockets of FLDS leaders, preferring to keep up friendly relations with his old Colorado City pals, including the Barlows, at the expense of hardball prosecutions of pedo-polygs.)
Based on Ward's e-mail, Alvin recommended to Mayes: "I vote for treating [New Times] with deafening silence. We knew the hit piece was coming, and we even gave them the governor for 15 minutes [for an interview] knowing that we just had to get it out of the way. I have asked [that] any public reaction to the story [be tracked], betting that it would be slim to none . . . I suggest we hold off. If we're inundated, then perhaps response is merited. Otherwise, I suggest we ignore [New Times]. Reacting will only egg them on."
Your devotion to the First Amendment -- much less to the public's right to know -- is always appreciated, Paul.
And the cherry on the sundae from Mayes to her two subordinates: "Paul's right -- let's leave it alone," she wrote about "Eyes Wide Shut" and its conclusions. "It doesn't deserve our attention."
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