Polygamy is a unique aspect of Utah’s history, a piece the past that many wish they could just run away from, especially the Mormons, if just because of the mockery that it seems to draw from those only loosely familiar with how it fits into their history and doctrine. These days, in contrast to what shows like “Big Love” and the new reality show “Sister Wives” seem to indicate, the practice of polygamy is, in addition to illegal, a practice conducted by a segment of the population that many consider to be stuck in the past, religious fanatics without association with the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and often abusive or repressive of women.
Then there are those who just don’t care. Live and let live, they say.
Meanwhile, it just makes Utah, and Mormons, look weird, and anyone who has been to Utah or knows any Mormons can attest that neither Utah nor Mormons are very wierd.
And so we get to the point: Paul Rolly, the local gumshoe with the Salt Lake Tribune, noted that several of the GOP’s candidates for the state legislature happen to have some very close ties to the Kingstons, a polygamist clan in the Salt Lake Valley.
Two Republican candidates for the Utah House who have deep ties to the Kingston clan say voters have nothing to worry about. They say they will be dedicated lawmakers independent of any family influence and work for the best interest of their constituents.
Two other candidates associated with the Kingstons filed as Republican challengers for the Legislature. But one withdrew before the Salt Lake County Republican Convention last spring and the other was eliminated at the convention.
In interest of full disclosure, I have never heard of the Kingstons, though I’m a Salt Lake Valley resident. I have met one of the individuals at question, Nephi Robinson, and he seemed like a nice guy. He’s got three kids, works hard, and doesn’t seem to have an agenda. He wrote in a letter to the newspaper:
“My constituents can be confident that I will be transparent with them and involve them in the decision making process,” Robinson responded in an e-mail [to Rolly]. “My family affiliation won’t affect my judgment. I am a sixth-generation Utahn and a proud father of three. I am working hard to be a good provider and live the American Dream the way our founding fathers had intended. I know there are a lot of people who share that same ambition.”
The other candidate is Margarethe Peterson, who is challenging Carol Spackman Moss in Holladay:
“Yes, I have children married to Kingstons and I also have some wonderful grandchildren,” she said in an e-mail in response to [Rolly's] questions. “I have worked at Standard Restaurant Equipment for many years where I have built a good reputation for myself with customers and co-workers alike.”
She added that, “In the event I should be elected, I will represent my community and their views and speak for the people I represent. I am running as a Republican to serve my district and my community because I believe in the values the Republican Party represents, which are values I have for myself as well. I have worked hard to gain a good reputation, and I’m sure the people I have associated with would agree with me in this. I care about this country, this state and the people in my district, which is why I’m running for office. I’m not running for money or political gain.”
Fair enough. Both are running because they care about their country and the people in their district. So why the worry? If voters want to elect people with polygamist ties, as long as voters know, it is the voters prerogative to elect who they choose. Less than reputable people get elected all the time, and these individuals, other than their polygamist ties, are far from disreputable.
Rolly expands on his concerns, indicating why he thinks these candidates are newsworthy:
Dissidents who have left the Kingston clan, whose leaders are said to have dozens of wives, say the family exists in a tightly-controlled atmosphere, which is why questions about the candidates’ ability to be independent arose.
Who are these Kingstons, anyway? I did a Google search, and a few things stuck out:
- Back in 1998, one article quoted a source saying that the Kingstons had business empire worth between $150 and $170 million, owning coal mines, vending machines, a fitness club, a school, and a restaurant equipment business, amongst other ventures
- The Kingstons belong to a group that believes it was designated to continue polygamy when the LDS church ended the practice in the 1890s. The Kingstons started the practice in the 1930s:
The Kingston family first embraced polygamy around 1931 when, according to author Max Anderson, Charles W. Kingston helped produce a pamphlet that contained a version of Lorin C. Woolley’s claims that former LDS Church President John Taylor had set aside a select group of men to carry on polygamy even as the church publicly disavowed the practice.
Charles W. Kingston’s oldest son, Charles Elden Kingston, embraced the ideas espoused in Mr. Woolley’s story and began practicing polygamy. Charles Elden Kingston launched his own organization, the Davis County Cooperative Society, in 1935 after having a power struggle with other fundamentalist leaders.
The Society is still in existence today.
The Kingstons have crated a religious organization that mimics in name at least the LDS Church: The Latter-Day Church of Christ. The clan is lead today by Charles E. Kingston’s son, Paul E. Kingston, who is said to have more than 30 wives.
- The Kingstons are distinct from other polygamous off-shoots of the LDS church, specifically the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (led by Rulon Jeffs) and the Apostolic United Brethren Church (led by Owen Allred). Because members of the group are expected to give everything back to the group, members lists all debt and assets on their tax forms as “0.”
- Remember the raid on the Texas branch of the Rulon Jeffs lead Fundamentalist Church? Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff considered a similar raid in 2007. When Shurtleff hesitated, opting to work with the attorney to discover if reports of incest were accurate,
[T]he result of that was all our subjects disappeared, our targets disappeared and we didn’t get the warrants served like we hoped to do,” said Shurtleff.
My conclusion? There’s a lot of rumor and aspersions cast their way, but not a ton of evidence. There have been cases against certain members of the Kingston clan, but evidently the clan has been able to avoid too much scrutiny, which, I imagine, might be part of the reason for the distrust with which we view the group.
We’ve outlawed polygamy over a hundred years ago, stopped practicing it, and yet there are those who persist, believing it is their religious duty. When individuals with ties to the practice run for office, is it so strange that we look a little closer than we might otherwise?
That said, I think it only fair that voters make their own assessment of Nephi and Margarethe. There’s no reason that they should be responsible for their parents actions, but should be judged and evaluated on their own merits.
On that note, it should be observed that Kingstons do not appear to produce Republicans only. As Rolly reports:
Eric Freeman, son of Carl Kingston, one of the clan’s business leaders, filed to run in West Valley City’s House District 29 against Democratic incumbent Janice Fisher, but he was defeated in the convention.
Dana Jenkins, Carl Kingston’s nephew, filed to run against Democrat Pat Jones in Holladay’s Senate District 4, but he withdrew before the convention.
- Utah still short a US attorney (lawafterthebar.wordpress.com)
- ‘Sister Wives’ Features A Lot Of Wives But Little Faith (huffingtonpost.com)
- ‘Sister Wives’ — Backlash in Polygamy Community (tmz.com)
- Utah police investigate family on polygamy TV show (reuters.com)
- Utah court orders new trial for polygamist leader (globaltvbc.com)
- Polygamist Warren Jeffs’ rape conviction overturned (lawafterthebar.wordpress.com)