Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes used the stage of the Republican National Convention on Thursday night to promote his signature issue — the fight against human trafficking — and lauded the Trump administration for making historic strides in combating it.
“President Donald Trump is a warrior against human trafficking,” Reyes declared, saying as a “proud descendant of warriors” he recognizes a kindred spirit.
Reyes, the first Utah minority elected to statewide office, talked about his father, Norberto Antonio “Buddy” Reyes, who was half Spanish and half Filipino, and who fled to the United States after being threatened by Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Among his dad’s prized possessions before he passed away recently from cancer was a pen from the president.
The Utahn said he first talked to Trump about the issue of human trafficking in 2017, as Reyes recounted “rescues” of children and adults victimized by all variety of traffickers.
“Overwhelmed with compassion, he promised to fight this evil,” Reyes said, adding that he was true to his word. Working with his daughter, Ivanka, and Cabinet members he directed resources and “hundreds of millions of dollars for raising awareness, liberating victims, prosecuting predators and empowering survivors.”
“Together they’ve done more to combat human trafficking than any administration in modern history. That’s a promise kept!”
Reyes also praised the president for his work on combating the plague of opioid addiction: declaring it a public health emergency and making billions of federal dollars available, in addition to signing the bill creating a national hotline for mental health.
“It will save countless American lives” among people who are addicted, depressed or suicidal.
Reyes has made human trafficking his top issue since his much-publicized participation in a sting operation organized by Operation Underground Railroad in 2014 to free dozens children from sex traffickers in Colombia.
He also has flirted with controversy on the topic, going undercover at the closing-night party of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, which already was swarming with security and yielded no leads.
Last weekend, he backed out of participation in a Salt Lake City rally against child exploitation and trafficking after being warned that one of the organizing groups is affiliated with the QAnon conspiracy movement.
But Reyes has also received widespread recognition for his commitment to the issue, including helping promote legislation and prosecuting trafficking cases.
A co-chairman of the Utah reelection campaign for Donald Trump, Reyes has long been a vocal supporter of Trump. But Alan Crooks, campaign consultant to Reyes, said while the Utahn has been considered for a speaking slot for awhile, it was only firmed up as convention organizers locked down the final lineup.
Reyes’ participation was criticized by the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), which suggested he should be focusing his attention and resources on the COVID-19 pandemic which has now claimed more than 400 Utah lives.
“Sean Reyes is proving once again that he is out of touch with Utahns and our priorities,” said Farah Melendez, political director of DAGA and a native Utahn. She also intimated that Reyes has violated health guidelines, including a 14-day quarantine for people traveling to Washington, D.C., from other parts of the country.
Crooks said he had no response to the allegations.
Reyes became the second prominent Utah politician with a speaking role at the convention. Congressional candidate Burgess Owens spoke Wednesday night.
Also Josh Holt, who was held captive in a Venezuelan prison for two years until he was released, was part of a televised discussion with Trump at the White House with a group of former hostages.
Reyes defeated Utah County Attorney David Leavitt in the June 30 primary and now faces Democrat Greg Skordas, a Salt Lake City attorney and former prosecutor, in the Nov. 3 general election.
This story has been updated to add excerpts from Reyes’ GOP speech.