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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Inside the minutiae of three races to be decided June 26

Published: Sunday, June 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

First District Congressional candidate Donna McAleer talks about his political ideas during his nomination speech at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City Saturday, April 21, 2012. She will face Ryan Combe in a primary in June

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Pignanelli and Webb: "Inside baseball" describes discussions about details and minutiae not understood or appreciated by those not possessing specific knowledge about the subject. Politicians sometimes engage in this "sport" — competing and debating on issues that most voters don't understand or care much about. We review three races to be decided in the June 26 primary where inside baseball prevails.

Usually, the State Auditor race is a sleepy affair. Many people question whether this should even be an elective position. This year, longtime incumbent Austin Johnson is facing a tough GOP nomination challenge from Rep. John Dougall. Johnson is running on his record as a CPA who has taken a professional, not political, approach to running the office. Dougall believes the office should perform more performance and managerial analyses, not just financial audits, to improve state government. Should primary voters care at all about this?

"Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising." — Mark Twain. We are always amazed at candidates who argue over details that bore even the most intelligent and engaged voters. Only management nerds understand or care about the differences between financial and management audits.

Dougall should be campaigning on issues people can relate to, like the legislation he sponsored reducing unnecessary auto safety and emission inspections. Every Utahn who owns a car will save thousands of dollars over a lifetime because of that legislation. Dougall also enjoys a reputation as a lawmaker who consistently dived deep into state operations looking for greater efficiencies through technology and better administration.

Johnson can make a credible argument that his CPA degree and experience are important to the job, in contrast to Dougall's engineering and MBA background. But Johnson should especially focus on the numerous accolades for excellent management the state has received, with him as an integral part of the state management team. Johnson has been in office since 1993 and, while few people know who he is, his office has been competently managed and no scandals or accusations of incompetence have occurred

Many current and former statewide elected officials have endorsed Johnson. Dougall enjoys the support of his legislative colleagues and some business organizations. Therefore, what is almost always a quiet contest has turned into a battle. The race provides an opportunity for GOP primary voters to re-examine what they want in their state auditor: the competent status quo, or a more aggressive, expansive approach led by more of a political insider.

GOP Attorney General candidates John Swallow, a former legislator and current Deputy Attorney General, and Sean Reyes, a prominent Utah attorney, are poking each other over who possesses the most legal expertise. Is this of any interest to any voter in the state who is not a lawyer?

Most lawyers love to debate the minutiae of any topic — especially the existence or nonexistence of qualifications the top attorney in the state may possess. Reyes is generally viewed as having the strongest legal background, although the Attorney General is mostly an administrator. But Swallow is questioning Reyes' experience in litigation, even as a member of a large firm. Most voters don't understand this issue and do not care. Reyes is challenging the degree of involvement by Swallow in the state's lawsuit challenging health-care reform. This makes even less sense, since Reyes is reminding Republican voters that Swallow has participated to some degree in the now-famous appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by several states to strike down Obamacare.

Endorsements have limited value, but the support of current popular Attorney General Mark Shurtleff for his deputy Swallow will be a factor in this race, along with Swallow's higher name identification. Reyes' promotion of a "Fraudsters Registry" will provide some traction for him. Notwithstanding all the silly nitpicking over matters no one really cares about, watch for Swallow and Reyes to raise important matters that concern Utah citizens as primary day gets closer.

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