In case you are just emerging from your Y2K shelter, our attorney general, John Swallow, resigned. According to statute, the process for filling a statewide vacancy is for the party of the previous office holder (John Swallow is a Republican) to send 3 names to the Governor who then selects the replacement. This replacement holds the seat until the next election in 2014.
I spent Saturday at the Utah Republican Party State Central Committee, the group tasked with sending the three names to Governor Herbert. It was a long day. Seven candidates were vying for the top three spots.
At Better UTAH, we have long maintained that any chance of restoring the public trust in the office relies on this interim person being beyond reproach, above the fray, and most importantly, not immediately campaigning to keep the seat beyond 2014.
Needless to say, the Utah GOP doesn’t agree with our assessment and it was clear from the beginning of the meeting that there were a lot of people intent on ensuring the continued politicization of the office.
Scott Burns, who had earlier indicated he wouldn’t run, saw the writing on the wall and by mid-week had changed his position. During Saturday’s speeches, Judge Michael Wilkins indicated he had also changed his mind and would consider running, but only if asked. Only Brian Tarbet, the current acting-attorney general held to the position that the interim role should be filled by someone focused solely on the task at hand, rather than someone with one foot in the office and one in a statewide campaign.
In the end it was Sean Reyes, Robert Smith and Brian Tarbet who took the top spots.
Reyes was Swallow’s former primary challenger. He and Swallow were neck and neck during convention but Swallow bested him handily during a very contentious (and even litigious) primary race.
Smith, of BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, has spent the last 8 years on social and religious issues. His speeches were a big hit with this crowd. They dripped with words like liberty, freedom, fear and tyranny, and not surprisingly, his pledge to fight for religious freedom (from an imaginary threat) and to defend traditional marriage (in a costly and losing battle).
The final name selected was Tarbet, who, as mentioned previously, is currently the acting AG and the only one committed to not running in 2014.
It took six hours and five rounds of voting to reach a conclusion and it was interesting to see even party insiders comment on the behind-the-scenes attempts to keep Tarbet off the list. Senator Todd Weiler even tweeted about his observations.
If Governor Herbert wants to restore honor and integrity to the office, he should immediately set aside Robert Smith, he should let Sean Reyes concentrate on his inevitable run in 2014, and he should appoint Brian Tarbet as the interim Attorney General.
And if anyone has any doubts about the need for changes to the delegate system, they should watch a video of Saturday’s committee meeting. It convinced me that 150 delegates shouldn’t be making the decisions for 3 million Utahns.