Janet's Missed Opportunity

I've got a dreadful message for thousands of young men and women trapped in the horrors of fundamentalist Mormon polygamy in a handful of remote and desolate towns north of the Grand Canyon along the Arizona-Utah border.

Governor Janet Napolitano -- the rising Democratic starlet who deftly portrays herself as a defender of women's rights, the champion of children and advocate of education -- has sold your souls for political expediency.

Make no mistake: Napolitano would rather appease conservative Mormons in the state Legislature than courageously fight to free thousands of young men and women from the shackles of a practice condemned by every civilized nation on Earth.

The governor had a rare opportunity last month during a historic meeting with the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) to demand they take a proactive role in helping the victims of polygamy.

She punted.

Napolitano never raised the sensitive topic, despite the fact that the LDS has a long, deep and continuing connection with polygamy.

The governor will argue that fundamentalist Mormon polygamists have no formal connection with the LDS -- and technically, that's true.

The LDS banned polygamy in 1890 under tremendous political pressure from Congress. But many members of the faith continued to quietly practice polygamy in the rural West as fundamentalist Mormons.

And just because the LDS banned polygamy, that doesn't mean the LDS gave up its belief in polygamy. The church still embraces the concept in the afterlife, and it remains a key tenet in the LDS and fundamentalist sacred scriptures.

The ban also doesn't mean the LDS can simply wash its hands and claim it is not responsible for the dreadful social conditions created by polygamy, a practice it strongly encouraged for decades.

Rather than accepting responsibility, the LDS church has turned a blind eye. It has done little to encourage and provide support for those seeking to break free from polygamy practiced by their fundamentalist cousins.

The LDS wishes polygamy would just go away, and so does Napolitano. But it won't, not without a major effort by the state and the LDS.

The governor's failure to discuss polygamy last month with LDS leaders in Salt Lake City sends a powerful signal to fundamentalist Mormons that she will not seriously challenge their corrupt lifestyle that is based on coercing underage girls into polygamous cohabitations.

Her avoidance of the topic is a continuation of her steadfast refusal to take meaningful action to end the rampant sexual abuse, degradation of women, exploitation of youth, welfare and education fraud and tax evasion within the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).

The FLDS controls three polygamist communities straddling the Arizona-Utah border including Colorado City and Centennial Park in Arizona and Hildale just across the line in Utah. The FLDS also has operations in Canada and Mexico and is building a new compound in Texas where underage girls are being moved.

Napolitano's inexcusable silence on an issue that cuts to the heart of human rights comes at the same time the Arizona and Utah attorneys general are conducting broad criminal investigations aimed at toppling the FLDS financial empire and indicting FLDS religious leaders who have engaged in child rape disguised as "spiritual" marriages.

The FLDS polygamists are making a mockery of Arizona's constitution, which bans polygamy, while benefiting from more than $10 million a year in state funds for welfare and schools.

Yet Napolitano does nothing.

She would rather cut deals with LDS leaders to score political points at the Legislature than stand up for the rights of countless victims trapped in a criminal enterprise.

Early last June on the heels of a brutal legislative session that repeatedly pitted Napolitano against prominent LDS Republicans including House Speaker Jake Flake (a descendant of polygamists) and Senate President Ken Bennett, Napolitano began seeking a meeting with LDS religious leaders in Salt Lake City.

Her staff quietly arranged a meeting with Gordon B. Hinckley, the LDS prophet and world leader of the 10 million-member church. The meeting was finally set for late September in Salt Lake City.

Napolitano invited several prominent Mormon leaders to join her delegation to Salt Lake City, including Republican attorney Leo Beus, Republican state Representative Bill Konopnicki and East Valley Leadership boss Roc Arnett.

Her office also secretly invited the East Valley Tribune to join the delegation -- while keeping the rest of the media in the dark that a meeting with LDS leaders was about to take place. It was obviously a calculated ploy to assure that the governor's visit would receive prominent coverage in the East Valley Mormon strongholds.

Napolitano now had a rare opportunity to address the problems brought about by polygamy with the head of the church that first instituted the practice. Merely bringing up the topic could have brought worldwide attention to the abhorrent conditions in Colorado City, where the FLDS headquarters are located.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty