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Why All Eyes Are On Elections in a Remote Utah Town

Polygamist FLDS group seems to be losing long-held grasp on the town—including local politics
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 6, 2017 10:50 AM CST
Utah Town's Elections Could Further Quash Polygamist Power
In this Oct. 26, 2017 photo, Jared Nicol plants his campaign sign for city council in Hildale, Utah. Nicol, a member of the mainstream Mormon church, moved to the rural community for a better life for his two children. He’s hoping he can bridge the gap between the two worlds.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In a place where political contests are virtually unknown, campaign signs offer the latest hint that a polygamous group is losing its grip on a remote community on the Utah-Arizona border. "For Hildale mayor vote Donia," reads a sign featuring Donia Jessop, a candidate pictured with a contemporary hairdo and a red suit, per the AP. The signs are unusual because elections here have long been decided behind the scenes by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that has made its home here for more than a century and handpicked men to run unopposed. Five years ago, Jessop was a member of the FLDS. Now she's among a swelling number of ex-members who've returned to buy foreclosed homes, open businesses, and try to turn Hildale into a typical Western town, not a cloistered religious community.

The elections scheduled for Tuesday could deal a crushing blow to traditionalists if the 367 registered voters elect Jessop and non-FLDS candidates for two city council seats. It would be another in a series of recent changes to shake up Hildale and sister city Colorado City, Ariz. FLDS members believe the town they built is being destroyed. One 50-year-old mother of 13 kids says the changes overtaking the town feel like a "cultural cleansing." But Jessop and other former sect members hail the changes as long-overdue progress that will help the community break free from the reign of sect leader Warren Jeffs, serving life in prison for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides. "The things that were happening in the church were so destructive. And now that destruction can stop, and we can start to rebuild," Jessop says.

(More Utah stories.)

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