Gov. Mike Leavitt told journalists and Utahns Thursday it's time to get past all this concern over polygamy and move on to more pressing issues.
Still trying to define himself on the polygamy question, Leavitt said in his monthly KUED Channel 7 news conference he's taking a "a hard line on clear crimes" committed by polygamists.But moments later he admitted he's turned the matter over to Attorney General Jan Graham - in her official capacity as the state's chief law officer - and county prosecutors.
After several minutes of questions on the polygamy subject, Leavitt shook his head a little and seemed irritated. "There are a number of important things going on in this state," he said, "like freeways, education" and other items.
"And while this is one of them, I think we may have exhausted this subject," the governor said.
The last month has been a "painful process," he said, as local, national and international media have focused on Utah's odd polygamist culture.
But some good things have come out of it, he added.
For example, the public and officials have learned that more people are hurt and abused in the culture than was believed before. "And we're prepared to help these people," the governor said.
Programs exist to get people out of polygamist cultures and help mainstream them into society, he added.
Leavitt took the opportunity Thursday to correct a statement he made a month ago at the KUED press conference. Then he said polygamy was a tough matter because it may be protected under the Constitution's free exercise of religion clause. "It's not," he said Thursday.
Leavitt said the state doesn't prosecute polygamists for three reasons: It is difficult to prove, there are legal issues pertaining to how to deal with children, and prosecutors say it is a low priority.
Still, he added: "I intend to take an aggressive position as a state" to deal with the matters.
But Leavitt has not directed any investigations or issued any executive orders on the matter.
He also refused earlier this month to meet with Owen Allred, leader of the Apostolic United Brethren, headquartered in Bluffdale, one of the state's larger polygamist groups.
"I didn't see any purpose served by" meeting with Allred, Leavitt said.
The governor also may have changed his statement from last month's now-famous press conference that polygamists are mostly "good people." Thursday he said it was dangerous to generalize either way about what kinds of people participate in polygamy.
"I think there are people who are working hard to practice what they believe," but there are also polygamists who behave "abusively and dishonestly."
In recent weeks as journalists from around the world have come to Utah to talk polygamy, the governor has forwarded responsibility to Graham. Graham's office has said that she will prosecute crimes but in turn has forwarded responsibility to local county prosecutors.
And several of them have said, too, they would prosecute crimes in polygamist communities but that such prosecutions are difficult and aren't a high priority. Given this trend, one reporter asked if the subject would just drift "back into the shadows."
"It will not go back into the shadows. It is against the law," Leavitt said. "(The state) is not taking anything but a hard line on clear crimes."
Later in the press conference, after several jokes about "less controversial questions," Leavitt was asked how he could say he was taking a hard line when the state isn't prosecuting openly polygamist practitioners such as Allred.
"Those decisions," Leavitt said, "are the responsibility of the attorney general and 29 elected county attorneys. That question should be posed to them."