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Mark Shurtleff's tenure marked by personal and professional challenges

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25 2012 1:40 p.m. MST

"It's tough on relationships, family. We're working on that," he said. 

M'Liss Shurtleff said there have been ups and downs, but she and her husband are in a better place now than they have been in years. Being the attorney general 24/7 and being away from home a lot made it difficult for her and the children, who were split on the spotlight their father's job cast on the family, she said.

"It's hard to see someone pull away, but he's realized what's important," she said. "Politics is a slippery slope. Sometimes you can just get too wrapped up in power."

Shurtleff, a Mormon, also struggled with his faith during his adversity.

"I have to admit, there were times when I was just like, 'Really? God, why me? Excuse me. I've dedicated my life to serving people and I have to go through this?'" said Shurtleff, who was deemed cancer free in June 2011.

Shurtleff said he has resolved any questions he might have had.

"I'm absolutely dedicated to the church. I'm very grateful for the (Christmas) season and my Savior and for my family and wife who's amazingly supportive," he said.

A public life

Shurtleff concedes he has some regrets about letting the public in "to the extent I've lost anonymity and the ability to have a private life in a lot of respects."

The attorney general's openness — personally and professionally — has drawn sharp criticism and labeled him as a grandstander. Critics accused him of taking political contributions from businessmen they said he should be investigating. His pursuit of an antitrust lawsuit against college football's Bowl Championship Series was viewed as a publicity stunt.

Murphy says those characterizations are "hurtful" because Shurtleff didn't make decisions to benefit himself.

Immigration brought out some of the most divisiveness.

Ron Mortensen, of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Shurtleff did everything he could to protect lawbreakers and nothing to protect child victims of identity theft.

"He probably owes a refund on his salary," Mortensen said.

Children, though, have been a focus of Shurtleff's administration. His office for years has sent letters to families whose Social Security numbers were stolen and walked them through how to clean up the problem. Also, more than 600 Internet predators and child pornographers were jailed in his tenure.

Latino activist and Democrat Tony Yapias called Shurtleff a voice of reason and compassion.

"We need voices like Mark Shurtleff's out there. I recognize that not all Republicans are extreme and ultraconservative. I think there are a lot more Mark Shurtleffs in this world, but it's just that no one listened to them until now," Yapias said.

A run at another political office isn't in Shurtleff's plans, though he admits to musing about being in the U.S. Senate right now. But then he said he thinks of Danielle, his daughter whose worsening depression and suicidal thoughts prompted him to drop out of the race in 2009. 

Shurtleff might be considered a renaissance man of sorts.

He wrote a historical novel titled "Am I Not a Man: The Dred Scott Story" about the black slave whose landmark legal fight for freedom moved the country closer to civil war. Last year out of the blue, he applied for but didn't get the recently open University of Utah president's job. He's thinking about writing a book on polygamy.

In January, Shurtleff will take a job with the international law firm Troutman Sanders representing clients before regulatory agencies. He'll spend time at its Washington, D.C., office but intends to maintain his Sandy home.

Shurtleff said he hasn't thought a lot about his legacy. He believes his pursuit of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs has ended child bride marriages in Utah. He initiated in Utah the now national Amber Alert system. He curbed the state's meth lab proliferation.

Asked to take a shot at summing up his career, Shurtleff said, "He was a guy who did the right thing regardless of the controversy or political posturing and tried to serve the best he could."

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E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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