HILDALE, Utah (ABC4 News) -Since the arrest of Warren Jeffs the southern Utah polygamous town of Hilldale continues to change.
The once predominately FLDS town has its first year with a female mayor under its belt.
It was a historic victory over a long-time incumbent mayor, but one can argue the victory heard across the Beehive State was also a victory against patriarchy.
“I feel like I’ve made my entire family proud. I am very much in connection with all of them,” said Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop.
Jessop was a Fundamentalist Latter-day Saint. When she left the FLDS sect, she made the tough decision to leave behind the town and the people she grew up with and loved.
When she returned, she was an outsider.
“I went back because the mountains called me back and I could see that the people that were still there, they were hungry for community,” said Jessop. “I just felt compelled to go home and start to rebuild that community.”
Almost a year ago Jessop beat insider and longtime Mayor Philip Barlow, an FLDS loyalist in a contentious race.
“It’s very important that our voices are heard. That we step up and say what it important to us,” said Jessop.
The town was divided between those still loyal to their befallen leader convicted child molester Warren Jeffs and those who wanted change following Jeffs’ brutal reign.
Jessop said over the course of her first year as mayor, the support has increased.
“But we have seen so many people come together. We have seen a community rebuild. People start to trust each other again,” said Jessop.
The victory was quite the feat when you consider two federal juries in Arizona found Hildale and adjoining town Colorado City discriminated against non-FLDS residents.
“It’s seriously through her compassion and her deep understanding of the barriers and fears of the population that she has been able to be an incredible bridge between what was and what is,” said Shrilee Draper.
Draper served as Mayor Jessop’s campaign manager and despite the heated race and said Mayor Jessop does not hold s grudge and serves with compassion.
“Maybe not another mayor would have been compassionate to people who are still FLDS, but she extends that olive branch and that diplomacy,” said Draper.
Hildale, Utah, a town once ruled by patriarchy, is now one of the most progressive in the state when it comes to women in politics.
“For example, we do have two other city council members who are female, so there are three men and two women on the city council…Hildale is leading the way in a number of metrics by that measure,” said Draper.
The mayor believes it’s imperative that more women get involved in Utah politics. She hopes the political transformation underway in her town inspires girls and young women across Utah.