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Election Night Brings Change To Utah Town Once Dominated By FLDS

Donia Jessop
(Photo by Jackie Hai - KJZZ)
For many, Donia Jessop's candidacy for mayor represented change in the community of Hildale.

One of the cities that is home to a polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border just had a historic election.

Unofficial election results Tuesday night showed for the first time ever, non-church members won all the available seats — and the town elected a woman as its mayor.

Historically, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, has dominated the community in and around Hildale, Utah and its twin city across the border, Colorado City, Arizona. This is the first city council election since the Justice Department found the towns guilty of religious discrimination last year.

In previous elections, candidates ran unopposed and had the backing of the church, according to many members of the community.

New mayor-elect Donia Jessop is an ex-church member.

"I am feeling really excited. And hopeful. And that was the whole thing I wanted to bring back, was hope. And I feel it. Everybody feels it," Jessop said.

When Jessop left the church four years ago, she also left town for a little bit, and then returned about two and half years ago. Jessop said she felt really drawn to the community and that she knew she had to come back. She is also a local business owner — she and her family just opened a small fast food restaurant and convenience store on the Colorado City side of town.

Jessop's plans as mayor include improving Hildale's water, roads and fiber optics. "Without fiber optics we don’t have the big businesses, so we’re looking at economics. We’re looking at commerce. There’s just so many possibilities now," she said.

The new city council will include two city councilors who are church members — their seats were not up for re-election this year — and three new councilors who are non-church members. A major source of tension during the elections involved concerns from community members regarding whether there would be a mayor or city council that reflects their own beliefs or place in the community.

"If the FLDS stay on it would actually be a perfect representation. If they don’t, it will still be a good representation. I want the FLDS people’s voices heard also," Jessop said.

Certified election results are expected in the coming weeks. Colorado City will have its city council election next year.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story and audio have been modified to correct the number of city councilors who are church members.

Sarah Ventre was a producer for KJZZ's The Show from 2014 to 2018.