It’s tempting to call 2013 the year of the Swallow. After all, the year began with revelations of former Attorney General John Swallow talking deals with suspected criminal Jeremy Johnson at a doughnut shop, and it is closing with news that he both buried and fabricated evidence to hide from those deals.
There’s one problem with that narrative. It lets voters off the hook.
The reality is that by the time Tribune reporters Tom Harvey and Robert Gehrke published their first Krispy Kreme story shortly after Swallow took office in January, Swallow’s reputation was well-known.
In 2012 Utah voters twice passed up more capable attorneys (Sean Reyes and Dee Smith) to go with Swallow, a less qualified insider who spouted right-wing talking points and knew where to get money. Enough was known about his legal experience and political maneuvering to raise red flags. Check out this passage from The Tribune’s endorsement editorial of Smith, published a month before the November 2012 election:
"John Swallow, the Republican, is a partisan operator whose background hints far too strongly of a loyalty to the very industries that any state’s attorney general ought to be vigorously investigating, as well as an unfortunate tendency to eagerly participate in the worst examples of Utah political grandstanding.
"Swallow, named as a top assistant to (Attorney General Mark) Shurtleff three years ago, is an attorney. But his energy of the past dozen years has been focused not so much on defending the interests of average citizens, crime victims and the state of Utah as it has on being an apologist for such unsavory clients as the payday loan industry, raising scads of campaign cash for himself and others ... "
And, of course, it was no coincidence that Swallow arrived at that point. He studied under the master. By the time he gave up the A.G. reins to Swallow, Shurtleff had a long history of hanging with shady characters. Remember "Digital Bridge," the company that received a glowing endorsement from Shurtleff shortly after company officials donated to his campaign?
Or how about Rick Koerber, the self-styled "free capitalist" who was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department after state Consumer Protection officials couldn’t get Shurtleff’s office to pursue the case?
When she was running against Shurtleff in 2008, Democratic challenger Jean Hill brought up his relationships with payday lenders, his decision to contract with a law firm that later hired his daughter and his fundraising for a candidate for state treasurer who was accused of trying to bribe his opponent to quit the race.
Shurtleff beat Hill with 69.3 percent of the vote that year, roughly the same percentage that chose Swallow over Smith four years later.
It’s easy to cast this as simply GOP dominance in Utah, but that doesn’t explain last year’s GOP primary. Sean Reyes was and still is a more viable candidate with more experience for the office, but Reyes lost the GOP primary after getting 32 percent to Swallow’s 68 percent.
Utahns can’t just sit back and wait for the powers to anoint someone. A functioning democracy requires functioning voters who will critically examine the character of those they elect. The quality of leadership is in Utahns’ hands, and right now those hands look a little dirty.
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