After public misfire on polygamy, Reid acts to help those he blasted
Washington — It wasn’t his appearance on "The Daily Show" last week that tripped up Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

No, the heartburn came from his comments the previous week on college radio station KUER-FM at the University of Utah.

Reid told the interviewer he was embarrassed by the lax approach authorities in Utah and Arizona took toward polygamy, suggesting they should operate more like those in Texas who raided a polygamous compound after being tipped to alleged child abuse.

"I am a cheerleader for what is going on in Texas," Reid said on KUER’s RadioWest, according to a report in The Salt Lake Tribune.

"To have what goes on in Arizona and in Utah go on year after year after year and people turn a blind eye to it, I think it is a travesty," Reid went on. "I am embarrassed for the two states ... Utah politicians are afraid to do anything about it, and I think that’s wrong."

What follows next is straight from the Salt Lake paper:

"Reid’s comments brought a swift reaction from an ‘outraged’ Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and an equally incensed Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard," the Tribune reported.

"‘To have him come in, without any knowledge whatsoever, and to accuse Utah of doing nothing, is unacceptable,’ Shurtleff said in an interview. ‘He ought to get educated before he opens his trap, frankly.’"

"Arizona’s Goddard, a Democrat, called Reid’s remarks ‘ignorant posturing,’" the paper continued. "‘The man has no idea what he’s talking about,’ Goddard said. ‘The senator certainly doesn’t understand Utah and Arizona.’"

Whew. No wonder Reid was so quiet on Jon Stewart’s show. It’s one thing to get tangled on an irreverent late-night comedy show angling for a laugh. It’s another to spend two weeks backtracking from comments made on the relatively friendlier turf of public radio.

Reid’s history shows that he is at his best when he’s letting his unvarnished thoughts fly instead of relying on the poll-tested caution of so many politicians.

But the flip side of that is Reid often gets himself in trouble. It always seems worrisome at the time, but as his new autobiography "The Good Fight" shows, that brashness also makes for some interesting stories over time.

In the subsequent days Reid got a phone call from Goddard and made one to Shurtleff. They discussed ways the federal and local governments could work together.

Reid also contacted U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to remind him of his interest in forming a Justice Department polygamy task force, a topic he had raised when Mukasey was undergoing confirmation hearings. Reid had also broached the issue with Mukasey’s predecessor, Alberto Gonzales.

Justice responded by assigning a senior prosecutor to review how the federal government could help local authorities combat polygamy.

On Monday, Reid wrote to both the Utah and Arizona officials to share the news of the federal action. He wrote that Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto would be joining Utah and Arizona officials in consultation, and U.S. Attorney Greg Brower was enlisted to provide additional help.

Reid also wrote, in response to their previous back-and-forth, that he was "pleased to learn more about the good work you both have undertaken" to combat domestic crimes in polygamous communities.

Hours later, Reid made his inaugural appearance on "The Daily Show." His appearance was friendly and mild, a nice visit, but probably not one to add to the history books.
Originally published Sunday, May 11, 2008