Mormon ads vex Salmon, Napolitano
One television ad says Republican Matt Salmon would never solve northern Arizona's polygamy problem because he is a member of the Mormon Church.

Another suggests Democrat Attorney General Janet Napolitano has ignored crimes in polygamist communities and doesn't care about victims' rights.

Salmon and Napolitano put aside their differences Wednesday to rip Independent gubernatorial candidate Richard Mahoney, saying he went too far when he used a woman who escaped from a polygamist clan to sound off in two inflammatory political commercials.

Salmon called the Mormon Church ad bigoted and said he was disgusted by it.

"This really makes me pity Dick Mahoney," Salmon said. "I don't think we can tolerate bigotry in any way, shape or form. If there are serious allegations, I would investigate and do whatever I could to bring those who harm those children to justice."

Napolitano denounced the ads as "exploitative" and a desperate attempt to jump-start a dormant campaign.

Mahoney shrugged off accusations of mudslinging.

The two ads that aired Wednesday feature a former Colorado City resident named Flora Jessop.

"Matt Salmon is, in my understanding, of the Mormon faith," she says. "He is not going to be able to address this issue (polygamy in Colorado City) because of the conflict in his beliefs of polygamy within that church."

Mahoney, who is Catholic, said Jessop is correct.

"I do agree with her. I think it's a serious question," he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rejected the practice of polygamy in 1890, but some fundamentalist offshoots still believe that taking multiple wives is a key to salvation. Some of the girls are married in their early teens, sparking allegations of child abuse and statutory rape.

The Utah attorney general, working hand-in-hand with Napolitano's investigators, indicted a Hilldale law officer on charges of bigamy and sex with a minor. Mahoney said the was effort too little, too late.

Napolitano said the ongoing investigation has been difficult because Colorado City is a very closed community.

"This is serious business and there are two state AG's offices working on it, and have been for 18 months," Napolitano said. "This is a matter for the criminal justice system, not for last-minute attack ads."

She confirmed that her investigators interviewed Jessop, but could not make a case on her allegations of statutory rape because the incidents happened several years ago and in Utah.

Don Evans, Arizona spokesman for the LDS Church, also said he was disappointed that Mahoney would inject religion into politics. Any members found practicing polygamy would be subject to church discipline and likely excommunication, he said.

"If Matt Salmon subscribes to church doctrine, why would he react any differently dealing with it from a legal standpoint?" Evans asked.
Originally published October 10, 2002