Whoever takes over the office of Utah attorney general in the next few weeks, his or her first act in office should not be to start raising money for a re-election campaign.
But, unless the new attorney general is one of those who has pledged not to seek election in 2014, cranking up the fund-raising machine will of necessity be job one.
After little more than a year in office — a year swamped by a flood of allegations of dealing, bribery and extortion — John Swallow exited the attorney general’s chair last week. The state committee of his party, the Republicans, are to meet Saturday to select a slate of three candidates, from which Gov. Gary Herbert will choose a replacement.
By law, an interim appointment lasts only through the 2014 election, with whoever is elected then to take office the following January.
That’s not much time. The caucus, convention and primary process is long and expensive. In addition to raising cash, a viable candidate will need to spend a lot of time setting up a statewide organization, which means travel and recruiting volunteers, county chairmen and fund-raising captains.
Not only would that be a big drain on the new A.G.’s time, it would also put that person right back into the thick of the briar patch that destroyed Swallow and threatens to besmirch the reputation of all who enter.
The attorney general’s office needs to be set right. And that can’t best be done by someone who will be spending time and money, energy and credibility, running a political campaign.
The Republicans, including Herbert, will be sorely tempted to pick the best politician, someone who will make the best candidate in 2014, and beyond, and give that person a year of incumbency and name recognition so that campaign will have a leg up.
It could be argued that Utah is so rock-solid Republican that campaigning doesn’t matter. But what candidate has ever left that to chance? And, in a year when the Republicans and the office are so covered in scandal, the GOP has to be worried that the Democrats will have their best chance ever.
Of the seven candidates before the party Saturday, two meet this standard. One is Brian Tarbet, former commander of the Utah National Guard and now the acting head of the A.G.’s office. The other is Michael Wilkins, a former Utah Supreme Court justice. It is possible that Tarbet’s year of service in Swallow’s office will make either the party or the governor uncomfortable. But neither has, or will, sully himself with fund-raising entanglements. Just what the office needs.