I’m old enough to remember when Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was a hope of better things to come in Utah government.
Reyes was appointed to fill the seat of Attorney General John Swallow, who resigned in disgrace in 2013. Swallow quit before the release of a report by a special committee of the Utah House that described the attorney general’s office of having a “For Sale” sign on its front door, trading favors and taking benefits from people whom Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, should have been — and sometimes were — prosecuting.
Swallow and Shurtleff denied wrongdoing, got arrested and charged with corruption, watched those criminal cases implode, and walked away with big taxpayer-funded settlements — $600,000 for Shurtleff, $1.5 million for Swallow.
Even though the charges against Shurtleff were dismissed and Swallow eventually was acquitted by a jury, the goings-on around the attorney general’s office during those years were a disgrace, involving expensive resort vacations and unethical dealings. The telling of that tale is not complete without such details as a key prosecution witness refusing to testify, citing possible self-incrimination, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it nigh impossible to convict anyone of corruption in office.
In the wake of all that, the arrival of a literally fresh-faced Sean Reyes, pledging honesty and rightly proud of his accomplishment as the first person of color to achieve such high office in Utah, felt like a clean breeze in the smelly stable of Utah politics.
For a while, anyway.
Now the memory of a Utah attorney general getting cozy with the sharks in the payday lending game and helping people accused of violating banking laws seems almost quaint.
At least Shurtleff and Swallow had the decency to deny that their questionable associations affected their conduct in office.
Reyes, on the other hand, travels to other states, and files papers with the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to bask in the reflected light of the fascist former president who fomented an attempt to violently overthrow the government of the United States.
While the ballots in the 2020 election were still being counted, Reyes took a jaunt to Nevada to wave the flag of the Big Lie. It creates a serious threat to the integrity of Utah’s own process — even though elections are not usually in the attorney general’s portfolio — if we fear that Reyes might intervene in a close election this year, say in contested GOP primaries for seats in Congress, or the independent Evan McMullin challenge of another Trumpist Republican candidate, Sen. Mike Lee.
And just last Saturday, Utah’s chief law enforcement officer scurried to a political rally in Casper, Wyoming, headlined by Donald Trump himself, where he thoroughly embarrassed himself, his office, his party and his state by telling more falsehoods about what’s going on in our nation.
“The federal government is coming for your lands,” Reyes lied, failing, as Utah politicians often do, to distinguish between land that belongs to Utahns and land that is owned by the people of the United States that happens to be in Utah.
He said the federal government is forcing public schools to tell students “that they were bigots by birth, telling them that America is irredeemable” — a charge against our educators that is despicably and empirically false but which fits right in in any forum where people don’t think Donald Trump should live out his life at Guantanamo Bay (Spandau Prison having been torn down many years ago).
Reyes has also joined — in the name of the state of Utah, its residents and its taxpayers — in a number of extremist lawsuits brought by a collection of Republican attorneys general around the nation. He has sought to block federal mandates that health care workers and members of the armed forces be vaccinated against COVID-19. The latter argument is based on the utterly ludicrous grounds that, unlike all the other vaccines soldiers are required to receive, the COVID jabs somehow violate someone’s religious freedom — when not a single religion opposes vaccines.
So, because of decisions Reyes made, in consultation with nobody, Utah is on the record arguing that it is within the rights of health care workers to spread disease and of soldiers to host a virus that clearly threatens any unit’s military readiness.
Reyes has been elected attorney general three times after his appointment, all with comfortable margins of victory. He needs no one’s help to hang onto that job in virtual perpetuity. The only reason he might want Trump’s anointment would be if he plans to challenge Sen. Mitt Romney in 2024.
If Utah is quite fortunate, Reyes will give up his current gig to challenge Romney in 2024, Reyes will be crushed by the well-regarded and well-funded incumbent, further tarnishing Trump’s reputation as a political kingmaker, and Utah will have a chance to elect an attorney general who is not a deep embarrassment.
That’s something that hasn’t happened for a long time.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is also old enough to remember when Lyndon Johnson was a hope of better things to come.