Utah Attorney General Office needs a leader

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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After six very long hours on Saturday, the Republican State Central Committee voted for and approved three candidates to replace disgraced Utah attorney general, John Swallow.

The three candidates who made it to the final round of voting on Saturday include Brian Tarbet, the current acting attorney general, Sean Reyes, who ran against John Swallow in the 2012 Republican primary, and Robert Smith, a law professor at BYU. Their names have been forwarded to the governor who will then, according to state statute, pick one of them to be the new attorney general. The governor has stated that he plans to pick Swallow’s replacement by Christmas.

Of the three candidates whose names have been sent to the governor, only one of the candidates has said that he would not run for reelection next year. Brian Tarbet, a retired adjutant general for the Utah National Guard and current employee at the Utah Attorney General’s office, has said that he will not run for reelection. For several weeks now, we’ve argued at the Alliance for a Better UTAH that the individual appointed to replace John Swallow should focus exclusively on bringing order to the Attorney General’s office. Essentially, someone who does not have one foot in the office and one foot in the world of campaigning. Tarbet appears to the be person most committed to this outcome.

Reyes and Smith, on the other hand, have both said they will run for reelection in 2014. But Utah is a large state, and running for reelection to a statewide office requires enormous amounts of time. The attorney general’s office doesn’t need another absent attorney general. And it is unlikely that an individual campaigning for attorney general will be able to give the office the resources it needs to get Utahns to start believing in it again.

It is worth noting, if only as an aside, that even though the individual party delegates met and chose the replacements, this is the fourth elected seat over the last year that the governor has appointed instead of being voted on by the people of Utah. This time last year, Sen. Jim Dabakis was appointed to replace then-Sen. Ben McAdams after McAdams was elected as Salt Lake County Mayor. Former Rep. Spencer Cox was appointed to replace Lt. Governor Greg Bell. County Commissioner Jon Cox was then appointed to replace Spencer Cox’s vacant seat. And now, a new attorney general will be appointed based on the recommendations of just under 180 Republicans throughout the state.

As you can imagine, this isn’t a very democratic way of doing things. All of these individuals were appointed to safe seats, so the likelihood of being challenged in an election are minimal. Each of these individuals were basically handed their seat. Granted, elections are expensive. But democracy isn’t the most easily administered form of government. It is complicated and messy. And this many appointments should make those of us who support more open government somewhat uncomfortable.

However, without any alternative, the only way to ensure that something approaching democratic openness can occur is a pledge that an appointed figure won’t run for reelection. Major General Brian Tarbet has done just that. Governor Herbert should do the right thing and select him as Swallow’s replacement.

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