Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: More drama in the Swallow saga: How will it all end?

Published: Sunday, June 2 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks with reporters in Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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After four months, the drip, drip, drip of news stories about Utah's attorney general turned into a gusher of bad publicity a week ago. Most political conversations now include references to former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and current AG John Swallow.

Have the latest revelations in this never-ending saga changed the dynamics of this issue, or is it just a misperception based on fatigue?

Pignanelli: "Always pay for your own drinks. All the scandals in the world of politics today have their cause in the despicable habit of swallowing free drinks." — Y. Yakigawa (president of Kyoto University)

The bad news: Shurtleff and Swallow received free lodging and goodies at a posh resort compliments of a convicted swindler. Good news: Utah politics has a new entry in our lexicon of disgraces: "golfing and massaging with felons."

Utahns were shocked, distraught and angered to learn of a tape recording wherein popular former AG Shurtleff offered his office to assist one business collect a debt from another, using the leverage of judicial procedure. This was more unsettling than the articles alleging aggressive — and potentially unethical — fund-raising tactics utilized by Shurtleff and his Deputy Swallow. Thus, the trajectory of this scandal has altered. Utahns now view Shurtleff and Swallow together as one culpable entity and want a resolution regardless of federal investigations.

Webb: In politics, perception is as important as substance, so Swallow and Shurtleff have certainly been damaged. While sometimes disagreeing with them on political issues, I have long assumed that both Swallow and Shurtleff are essentially good people, and I would still be surprised and disappointed if either one flagrantly violated a law or accepted a bribe.

Wealthy and famous people, along with wheeler-dealers and shady characters, are inexorably drawn to politicians. And the attraction is often mutual, because every major politician has to raise a lot of money. A top politician will inevitably come into contact with the rich and famous and also some seedy characters looking for favors, sometimes in the name of constituent services.

But a really excellent politician has a sixth sense that raises alerts when a fast-talking, shifty fellow comes calling, showcasing the trappings of wealth and what that implies. Great politicians quickly sort things out and politely, but firmly, decline to engage. Swallow and Shurtleff don't appear to have had a well-developed sixth sense of political propriety.

Until recently, most Utah officials have declined to comment or take action regarding this controversy, in deference to official investigations. Will state leaders now be pressured to make public statements and act on the allegations against the attorney general?

Pignanelli: Our state abhors any public embarrassment that smacks of unethical or criminal conduct by an official. Further, this dishonor is an unsightly pimple on the economic and technology boom the state is enjoying. The traditional Utah method of removing such blemishes reflects our culture: passive regressive but very effective. The "Establishment" (business, legal, community, religious) is quietly building momentum to push both Swallow's resignation and action by government leaders. House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart opened the door with her email last week outlining the process for impeachment, which allowed other officials (Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield) to step through and demand Swallow's resignation.

Webb: If the state's top lawyer is officially accused of violating the law, then he obviously should resign or be impeached. But sometimes, even before innocence or guilt is established, the furor surrounding a controversy reaches a level that prevents an elected official from adequately executing his duties. At that point, the official should resign for the good of the office and the state.

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