“I’m an innovatin', devastatin', rhymin’ AG,
Reppin’ 801, Utah, SLC,
Don’t waste your time trying to battle me
cuz I’ll knock you out. You’re Frazier? I’m Ali.
Yes, Ali, aka Cassius Clay. You want to take my title?
Best step away. Political pugilist, I don’t play.”
That was the rap bomb Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes dropped on a crowd of COVID-deniers on their third attempt to thumb their nose at public health recommendations at a Cedar City concert last week.
The video of Reyes, wearing a big ol’ cowboy hat and sport coat — which, unless your name is Lil Nas X, is not an ideal rap look — went viral. He said he hoped that bringing country fans and rap fans together he could “solve all the problems we have in our nation.” His bold strategy has thus far proven ineffective.
I’d seen his rap act before and he is to rap what Snoop Dogg is to the law — habeas corpshizzle my dizzle. So it wasn’t a surprise.
Not much he could do would be surprising.
Recently I stumbled on an over-the-top “reality” show, “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch,” where Reyes lent his title and gravitas to a group investigating alien activity on a Uinta Basin ranch — owned by a wealthy real estate developer and Reyes campaign donor. That’s the outer space kind of aliens. Not immigrants.
A few years ago, Reyes donned a black beanie to “go undercover” at the Sundance Film Festival and try to capture human traffickers. He came up empty.
As lackluster as his performances on stage are, however, his performance in office has been more disappointing.
Reyes brought us Banjo, the data-guzzling for-profit company designed to scoop up massive amounts of public data as well as tap into government info to build a crime-fighting surveillance network. The program fell apart, not on its merits — it was a bad idea and opposed by some key legislators — but because the company’s founder, a friend of Reyes’, had been involved in a white supremacist hate crime years ago.
Last year, Reyes signed all of us to be guinea pigs for a test of a product developed by Liberty Defense Technologies, Inc. designed to conduct mass, involuntary body scans of large crowds in hopes of detecting weapons.
Reyes has joined his Republican colleagues in court cases, including a brief opposing giving LGBTQ Americans federal protection against discrimination (the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of the protections), advocating for the dismissal of the guilty plea by Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and to gut the Affordable Care Act, which, if successful, would undo the voter-approved Medicaid expansion initiative and take away health coverage for thousands of Utahns.
As the opioid epidemic tore through communities, Utah was one of a few states that balked at joining lawsuits against the companies whose deceptive practices led to addiction, devastation and death. It took public pressure from then-House Speaker Greg Hughes and the Legislature before Reyes’ office took action.
While other states were suing the opioid makers, Reyes raked in at least $32,000 in campaign contributions from the biggest opioid manufacturers on the planet.
This from a guy who came into office vowing to clean up the morass of corruption left by his predecessor and refusing campaign contributions from companies he might likely be called on to investigate.
I was encouraged by the posture at the time, partly because change was needed and partly because campaign fundraising and administering justice go together like orange juice and toothpaste. Since taking office, however, he has raised $2 million in campaign contributions.
That includes $50,000 from Washakie Renewable Energy, a company that scammed taxpayers out of more than half a billion dollars in renewable energy credits.
After federal agents raided Washakie’s offices in 2016, Reyes campaign consultant, Alan Crooks, said the money would be set aside pending the completion of the investigation. In 2018, when charges were filed, he said it was still “locked down,” and asking about the money was “a ridiculous question.”
Then, earlier this year, the campaign revealed the money was already spent.
And then there’s the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), by far Reyes’ biggest contributor. RAGA is one of those political organizations that brings together huge corporate donors who want to influence policy with the top state attorneys, usually at posh resorts.
For whatever reason, RAGA has given Reyes roughly $600,000 since 2014, even though Reyes hasn’t had an opponent finish within 35 points of him in an election. In 2016, his challenger dropped out midway through the race.
Just last week, RAGA dropped another $33,000 into the primary, including sending out a mailer featuring Reyes with President Donald Trump on one side and the attorney general wielding a gun and wearing a polo shirt with a badge on it on the other. If you were wondering if Reyes is a certified law enforcement officer, he is not.
He is, however, a Republican incumbent, and that’s a pretty sure path to victory in this state.
At a recent debate, his opponent, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, landed some heavy shots on Reyes’ record and, despite a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll that showed the race fairly close, Leavitt is severely underfunded and still a long shot to win.
The winner of the primary faces Greg Skordas, a well-respected defense attorney and a Democrat, which obviously is a disadvantage in Utah.
So the safest bet is four more years like the last seven of the Reyes administration. If somehow he does lose, at least he can fall back on his rap gig.