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Pyle: How to avoid John Swallow's fate
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

[Above: President Nixon resigns. And demonstrates why presidents since have preferred teleprompters.]

John Swallow has done Utah the favor of giving up the office of attorney general. The least we could do is to do him the honor of taking some of his concerns seriously.

When the embattled Swallow met the press Thursday to announce that he was resigning from office, he wasn't honorable enough to admit that he might have done one single thing wrong. He claimed, not only in the face of all evidence, but also in spite of the fact that few humans are, to be "100 percent innocent."

But he did paint a disquieting picture of what might happen if he were, or if one of his successors might be, say, 80 percent pure.

Swallow was correct in saying that the Utah Legislature had already spent about a million and a half bucks, with authorization to spend that much more, on its special counsel and multi-investigator probe of Swallow's dealings before and after he became attorney general.

It is true that, not having access to taxpayer funds himself for that purpose, a man pulling down an annual salary of just more than $100,000 is going to have a really hard time keeping up.

He elicited what sympathy he is entitled to by noting, however pathetically, that the financial and psychic strain on his family was more than normal people should be expected to bear. And that, he said, was why he would quit.

It isn't necessary to say that Swallow is innocent to allow that the system will always have the advantage over the individual. Even if the individual is the attorney general of Utah.

What swiftly follows from that, though, is to wonder how often an attorney general would decline to prosecute someone just because the accused couldn't afford to defend himself with as many lawyers as the state has.

It's almost too bad that one of the few prosecutors who would go forward with some sympathy for those accused of crimes will now be out of office.

But, while it sounded a little too much like Richard Nixon trying to fend off all questioning of his presidency by claiming he was only protecting the prerogatives of future presidents, Swallow did raise a question that should be answered.

What about future office holders? What about good, decent, qualified and dedicated people who once might have been interested in public service, but now won't go near the place because they see what happened to Swallow, and his family, and swear they won't do anything to bring such pain to their loved ones?

A fair question. Here's an attempt at a fair answer.

If you are a young man or woman, smart, dedicated, who envisions either a career in public service, or just a turn serving your community on the city council or in the Legislature, you can go a long way toward inoculating yourself against what Swallow suffered by not being, well, John Swallow.

You can't spend years as a fixer and water-carrier for the kinds of businesses that public officials have to at least pretend to hate — pay-day lenders, multi-level marketers, get-rich-quick Internet "consultants" — and then suddenly turn about and present yourself as a squeaky clean, crusading, consumer-protecting white knight. Even if it was all legal. It just won't sell.

Maybe it's not fair that, from the beginning of their careers, striving lawyers and businesspeople, teachers and doctors, have to so carefully watch their step, consider their choices, pick their friends and associates, so that, come the day they think of filing for office, they have nothing to be ashamed of.

Who's that perfect? Especially in a political environment where the constant scrambling for money is necessary to get anywhere? (Which is why we need campaign finance reform.)

Maybe nobody. But a generation of political candidates better prepared than was John Swallow shouldn't be too much to expect.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, denies that he is 100 percent blowhard.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @debatestate

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