Too Little, Too Late

It's not every day that the governor of a state is faced with an open insurrection by thousands of religious zealots.

It's even rarer when the fanatics flout the state Constitution in a hell-bent pursuit of reaching heaven by coercing teenage girls into a life of subjugation, rape and breeding.

Even more unusual is the appalling fact that the rebellion is being funded by tens of millions of taxpayer dollars pouring into an incorporated town controlled by a theocracy -- a religious dictatorship that ignores the rule of law and prays for the destruction of this nation.

These are the facts of life in the remote town of Colorado City, located north of the Grand Canyon on the Arizona Strip. And these are precisely the type of outrageous actions in which government is supposed to intervene, by force if necessary, to protect its citizens from human rights and constitutional abuses.

This is the type of situation a governor with courage and conviction should immediately address. Unfortunately for Arizona and the thousands of children in Colorado City, Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano has exhibited neither of these characteristics when it comes to the horrendous situation in Colorado City.

Instead, Napolitano is doing nothing.

Colorado City, along with its twin community of Hildale, Utah, is the epicenter of a religious sect that split from the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church more than 70 years ago. The 10,000-member cult continues to practice polygamy in defiance of Article XX of the Arizona state Constitution, which bans the practice.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is controlled by a single man -- the self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, who is believed by adherents to be God's only true spokesman on Earth. The central tenet of the religion is plural marriage -- a man must have at least three wives to reach heaven's highest realm.

Jeffs and his followers must rely on forcing underage girls to enter into plural "marriages" in order to sustain their religious beliefs. It matters little to Jeffs -- who has several dozen wives and who has impregnated at least two 17-year-old girls -- and the FLDS hierarchy that their religious practice stands in direct violation of the state Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court rulings and basic human rights conventions adhered to by all civilized countries.

But such grievous transgressions should be of huge concern to Arizona's elected leaders -- starting with Napolitano. This is an issue she knows all too well -- as a former U.S. Attorney, state Attorney General, and now as governor for the last 15 months.

Napolitano has pinned her political star on protecting children. Her support among feminist groups is broad and deep. Yet when faced with the ultimate degradation of women and children at the hands of religious fanatics, Napolitano meekly wrings her hands and whines that it's a "frustrating" situation.

Yes, it is frustrating -- especially when the state's top official fails to take action to send a powerful message to the FLDS leadership that their days of using our money to violate the state Constitution and raping teenage girls in the name of God are over.

Earlier this month, Napolitano had an opportunity to deliver a forceful message to Jeffs while giving words of encouragement to teenage girls and young women trapped in polygamous cohabitations where pregnancy is paramount. But Napolitano slinked over to Parker and Lake Havasu to tout the reforms she rammed through the Legislature last year to improve the dismal performance of the state's Child Protective Services agency.

Napolitano could have made a far more powerful statement by delivering that speech in the heart of Colorado City -- a town where hundreds, if not thousands, of teenage girls have been coerced into polygamous unions with much older men during the last 70 years.

But she didn't have the guts to go into a hostile environment and declare that she will use all of the state's resources necessary to protect the women and children that Jeffs considers to be nothing more than mere chattel to be swapped like cows at a market.

And speeches, wherever they are given, are not enough.

Napolitano needs to immediately address a glaring oversight in state law. While the Arizona Constitution clearly forbids polygamy, the state has never passed a corresponding criminal statute outlawing the practice.

This omission allows FLDS polygamists to secure positions on the Colorado City town council, the local school board and the police force -- despite violating their oath to uphold the state Constitution.

Former attorney general Grant Woods attempted to strip Colorado City police officer Sam Barlow of his police certification in the late 1980s. But the effort failed when a hearing officer ruled that the lack of a criminal statute banning polygamy made it impossible to remove Barlow's certification.