BIG WATER, Kane County -- Alex Joseph is a tough act to follow.
The former Libertarian mayor of Big Water, who once trumpeted his town as the only one in America with a Libertarian mayor and all-Libertarian council, was a practicing polygamist who married more than two dozen women in his lifetime and wasn't shy about discussing his lifestyle.Heck, Joseph wasn't shy about much of anything. And despite his flamboyant style, his tense standoff with federal authorities near Kanab in the '70s and a stormy tenure as this town's mayor, he was a lightning rod of progress for tiny Big Water.
"It was a fun adventure being married to him," said Boudicca Joseph, one of Alex's seven widows.
On Sept. 27, 1998, Joseph died at the age of 62 after a long battle with liver cancer. He left behind seven widows, 21 children, 24 grandchildren and a pattern of family involvement in local politics.
But when local voters go to the polls Nov. 2, not a single Joseph name will be on the ballot. Nor will anyone closely allied with the family make a run at local office.
Boudicca, the town's only Realtor, has been an active participant in the planning process for local school trust lands and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. She recently made the one-hour trek to Kanab to hear Gov. Mike Leavitt address southern Utahns during his Capitol-for-a-Day tour and is viewed by some as the Joseph family member most likely to seek public office -- at some point, anyway.
"Unfortunately, the stigma in many people's minds that our family controls things is there," Boudicca said. "So I don't want to run for office. We want to heal this rift that has been going on."
Boudicca said it was Alex's strong personality and charisma, and his controlling nature, that led some people in town to mistrust and even fear him. There were charges of voting fraud in 1989, and Joseph's opponents mounted an effort to disincorporate the town a year later.
"He is not here anymore and things are changing, and we really are trying to work together for the good of the community," she said. "We want to stay away from anything that's going to contribute to that chasm."
That doesn't mean Boudicca and other Joseph family members won't be involved in what happens in and to Big Water. She recently fought, unsuccessfully, for a more visible site as the location for the Grand Staircase-Escalante visitors center planned for construction in town. And she is of the strong opinion, as are other townsfolk, that county officials in Kanab don't always pay attention to Big Water concerns.
"We have to have a united front," she said of the town's 500 residents. "They will run right over us if we don't get together."
Alex Joseph spearheaded incorporation of the town in 1983 and was credited with turning this nearly abandoned former construction encampment for Glen Canyon Dam into what it is today -- a growing retirement and lakeside community with a total property value that has increased from $300,000 to more than $10 million in less than 20 years.
It is hard to imagine this town, which still does not have its own sewer system, rolling along on its current course without a Joseph family member or direct ally involved in town politics.
At one time, the Josephs dominated Town Hall. Alex's wife Elizabeth was town attorney and prosecutor. His wife Delinda, who later left Alex, served as town clerk. Alex's son James was a city councilman and a nephew was town marshal. The Josephs also owned and published the town's newspaper, the Big Water Times, which has since ceased publication.
Elizabeth Joseph was the engine that drove the newspaper. She has since taken her reporting talent and political savvy to a radio station in nearby Page, Ariz.
She said one of her sons had planned to run for local office this year but moved to Montana.
The youngest of the Joseph widows, 29-year-old Dawn, married one of Elizabeth and Alex's sons, Trace, two months after Alex's death. That event "was very much applauded by the whole family," Elizabeth said. "He (Alex) made it clear to us that he didn't expect our lives to come to an end just because his did."
Elizabeth, meanwhile, has been extended a marriage proposal by a Heber man who is a longtime friend of the family's. He already has one wife.
"I can't believe I'm doing it again," Elizabeth said of considering a second polygamous relationship.
That would only happen, however, if the gentleman and his first wife move to Big Water. While some of the kids have moved on, most of the Joseph wives are content to stay in Big Water.
Garry King, a longtime observer of Big Water politics who lives in nearby Churchwells, said he believes the absence of the Josephs and their supporters from Big Water's ballot will be temporary.
"I think they are concerned that there's a degree of equity, socially and economically, in the town," King said. "Many who have lived in Big Water over the years are living on the lower economic levels of society whereas a number of the new people are bringing in large amounts of money they have made in California or Phoenix. And they (the Josephs) don't want to see the situation divided into a 'have' and 'have-nots' situation."
For now, though, Alex Joseph's memory and cavalier spirit will be the family's only direct influence on Big Water politics.