Utah's $6 million man
The Utah House of Representatives wants to spend up to $3 million to investigate the life and times of Attorney General John Swallow to determine whether an impeachable offense is lurking. That is so the Utah Senate can then investigate the House's investigation to determine if the evidence is sufficiently persuasive to remove Swallow from office. Throw in another $500,000 for the Senate gig.
Concurrent criminal and civil investigations are underway via the U.S. Department of Justice, two Utah prosecutors, the lieutenant governor's special counsel, and possibly the Bar Association. Another $2.5 million for these doesn't seem implausible.
Until the Utah House decided to get into the act, who would have thought that Swallow might wind up a sympathetic figure? With a declared mandate that an impeachable offense is whatever House members decide it will be, Swallow's fortunes may be looking up. The House was itching to go back to Swallow's admission to the Bar in 1990, and possible subsequent citations for jaywalking, until cooler heads prevailed.
This is all reminiscent of a wonderful episode of "The West Wing," where President Jed Bartlet is being investigated by a special counsel who is doing too good a job. So, press secretary C.J. Cregg says to presidential adviser Leo McGarry, "We need to pick a fight. We need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the House of Representatives?"
Why Swallow chooses to remain a colossal political pincushion in the face of an extraordinary loss of public confidence and respect is a mystery. Maybe it's doggedness, maybe economic necessity. Maybe he's waiting for the right deal. In any event, he seems determined to stay in office until he's crow-barred out of it.
So far, all of the questionable conduct appears to pre-date the 2012 election. If that's the case, an impeachment inquiry looks like a $3 million dry hole. While nothing is too good for the taxpayers, there surely must be other places to put that money where it would do some actual good.
The timetable for all of the investigations isn't on a collision course with the week after next. One to two years is more plausible, and really, what does it matter? The office still functions, the sun still rises in the East, but the man seems less relevant with each passing week. The Legislature won't be fixing anything anytime soon.
It's not as though there isn't a highly legitimate and absolutely necessary role for the Legislature in this sorry spectacle. Swallow is the poster child symptom of a cancer on our body politic. Everything about this circus points to the corrosive, poisonous influence of unlimited, unregulated money sluicing through the election process.
Swallow and his predecessor turned the attorney general's office into a lucrative cash cow, but there's nothing that prevents any other elected officer from renting out his or her office to the highest bidder. Utah is the OK Corral of political money. Anything goes, and it's all perfectly legal.
Spending $3 million to investigate whether Swallow can be impeached for things he did prior to getting elected is perhaps as much of a poke in the taxpayers' eye as anything Swallow might have done to implode the public trust. Especially so, since there will be absolutely nothing done as a matter of public policy to address the root problems that led him into temptation in the first place.
That's the fix voters and taxpayers really need not more political theater.
David Irvine served four terms as a Republican in the Utah House of Representatives. He was co-counsel for the Alliance for a Better Utah in filing ethics and election law complaints against John Swallow with the Utah State Bar and the lieutenant governor.