Editorial: Swallow's overdue exit leaves need for exemplary replacement
As Utah's disgraced attorney general John Swallow heads for the exit, two questions arise: What took so long? What now?
Swallow had been in office less than a week before reports of his questionable dealings with disreputable characters burst upon the scene. But, if anything, the Utah electorate was not shocked by news that Swallow and his predecessor and mentor, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, had a long paper trail linking them to sketchy business ventures and distasteful entrepreneurs. That history was already widely known.
Swallow was anointed as Shurtleff's successor, steamrolled his way through the undemocratic caucus, convention and limited primary system and cruised into office for no particular reason other than that he had the word Republican next to his name on the ballot. The fact that Swallow not only had no real background as a prosecutor, but actually cut his legal teeth representing pay-day lenders and other operations that work against the interests of the people, did not seem to matter one bit.
Practically from day one, Swallow's ability to perform his duties was hobbled by an overlapping series of investigations into his conduct as Shurtleff's chief deputy and as a candidate for the top job. He was accused of taking part in a plot to bribe a public official, of shaking down the targets of state and federal investigations for campaign contributions or personal favors and, the ultimate cause of his announcement that he was indeed giving up his office, of falsifying his campaign disclosure forms.
It was that last affront, diligently ferreted out by a special counsel appointed by the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office in its role of keeper of election and campaign finance rules, that most immediately preceded Swallow's departure. The attorney looking into the matter determined that Swallow's move to transfer his interest in the consulting company P-Solutions to his wife on the very day he filed his financial disclosure documents, hiding that connection to questionable business dealings, was a clear violation of state election law. A violation serious enough to seek a judicial order voiding the election and declaring the office of attorney general vacant.
Now that the office will be vacant, it falls to Gov. Gary Herbert to choose someone to hold the office until a special election is held in November 2014.
The most obvious choice would be Sean Reyes, the outstanding young attorney defeated by Swallow in last year's GOP primary. But whomever the Republicans choose, the new attorney general should be the un-Swallow: distinguished attorney, experienced prosecutor, unquestioned consumer protection advocate with a desire to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute the same kinds of businesses that Swallow showed no shame in befriending over the years.
Any sympathy voters might have felt for Swallow should have been erased in his self-serving, downright Nixonian, press conference Thursday afternoon. There he proclaimed himself "100 percent" innocent. He took not one shred of blame for the series of events that led to the investigations and his departure. Blamed the press. Blamed fellow Republicans who run the Utah House of Representatives. Ignored criticism from fellow conservatives and even from the governor. Forgot the mysterious erasure of so many of his own computer records and emails. Demonstrated clearly that he still has no understanding of how his behavior, as a deputy, as a candidate and as attorney general, brought so much credible suspicion on him.
The stench that needs to be cleaned up in the Utah Attorney General's Office is overwhelming. The job must now go to someone with a reputation beyond reproach.