Shurtleff eager to educate Reid on polygamy battle
Harry Reid

Harry Reid
Mark Shurtleff

Mark Shurtleff

WASHINGTON Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff wants to "educate" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on what the state has done to fight polygamy after the Nevada Democrat said Utah and Arizona are turning "a blind eye" to the issue.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is pushing for the federal government to take a closer look at polygamy in light of the raid at a Fundamentalist LDS Church's compound in Eldorado, Texas. In a radio interview Monday, Reid based his push on what he claims is Utah's lack of enforcement on the group, which angered Shurtleff.

"The state of Utah is doing nothing," Reid said on University of Utah's KUER radio "RadioWest" program. "If not the federal government, who?"

Reid said he is a "cheerleader for what has gone on in Texas."

"I think Texas is doing what Utah and Arizona should have done decades ago." Reid, a Mormon, told radio host Doug Fabrizio. He said he was "embarrassed" for the two states.

"Utah politicians are afraid to do anything about it and I think that's wrong," Reid said. "It doesn't make those states look good."

Reid said he supported the Texas decision to move the children taken from the compound into foster facilities.

Shurtleff was angry at Reid's words and is writing a letter to the senator demanding an apology on behalf of those who have worked against polygamy in the state. He's also including a list of what the state has done in combat polygamy and pointing to problems in Nevada.

"How could (Reid) be so ignorant to what has been going on here," Shurtleff said. "He is completely wrong. I don't know where he's been."

Shurtleff pointed out that the crackdown on the Texas ranch stems from Utah's work in fighting the group in the state.

"They wouldn't be in Texas if we didn't kick them out of Utah," Shurtleff said.

The Utah Attorney General also pointed out that Nevada has its own set of polygamy problems that "(Reid) knows nothing about." Shurtleff noted that that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs performed "child-bride marriages" in Caliente, Nev., and was arrested in Nevada before the Utah legal system sent him to jail.

Earlier this month, Reid wrote U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking for a federal task force to investigate polygamist groups. He initially requested the same probe from former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the department is reviewing the letter.

Shurtleff said he invited federal officials five years ago to the state to talk about polygamy, but there seemed to be little interest. At the time there was renewed emphasis on terrorism and homeland security, Shurtleff acknowledged.

"We have been calling on the federal government for help," he said.

Shurtleff said he would appreciate Reid's help to push for the federal government involvement, but he emphasized that the state has worked on the problem.

Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said that Reid's comments were "some kind of overcompensation. ... It seemed to be more of a negative way to give him some cover. It seems more self serving."

Jowers said it was not productive for Reid to be "firing shots at his neighboring states."

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

Originally published Wednesday, April 30, 2008