Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: How does Swallow's alleged deleting of records factor in investigation?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 10 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks in his office Jan. 14, 2013 about allegations against him.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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Along with city elections and a few key national contests, the John Swallow investigation dominated political discussions last week. Here’s our take. Allegations are now surfacing that Swallow, as deputy attorney general, deleted numerous electronic records. How does this impact the investigation against Swallow and Utah politics? Pignanelli: "Many a politician wishes there was a law to burn old records." — Will Rogers

The 2011 HB477 controversy surrounding attempts to restrict Utah's government records laws (GRAMA) demonstrated an unequivocal fact: All Utahns across the political spectrum demand and expect their officials to allow public access to government documents and activities. This dynamic is further compounded that Swallow is the chief law enforcement officer for the state and is held to a higher standard. Regardless of whether the loss of information was intentional, accidental or negligent, Utah officials will respond to constituent demands that the Attorney General be held accountable. Further, part-time lawmakers — without staff — deal with the maintenance of legislative, work and personal correspondence in accordance with the law. They have little sympathy for a full-time state executive blessed with employee support who is careless with such responsibilities.

Politicos are noticing that the record deletion was uncovered by the House Committee, and not by federal or other investigators. The legislative effort (chaired by Rep. James Dunnigan) is garnering praise while the thoroughness of other activities are questioned (and the subject of colorful comparisons to the "Three Stooges", etc.). The investigations of Swallow will now be expanded to uncover evidence of obstruction of justice.

Webb: I believe Swallow is basically an honest person whose motives are proper. But he has cut corners, used bad judgment, been involved with shady characters and made a lot of mistakes. I would be surprised if he willfully and illegally destroyed evidence. But, cumulatively, Swallow’s foibles rise to the level that he should have spared the state (and his office) a lot of grief and resigned a long time ago.

Utah's municipal general elections were held last week. What are politicos observing as important results and trends?

Pignanelli: Seasoned denizens of city politics wonder if voter anger is higher as many incumbents were dumped or barely survived. Provo Mayor John Curtis won re-election handily. With this victory, and his achievements in promoting high technology, he is now a serious contender for higher office. Former House Appropriations Chairman and Utah Budget Director Ron Bigelow is one the most respected and beloved officials in state history. As the new Mayor of West Valley, the relationship between cities and the Legislature is entering an interesting phase. My mother, Holladay Council member Patricia Pignanelli, was returned to office with 95 percent margin. (Whew! Less guilt for me at Thanksgiving Dinner.)

Webb: Most elections are decided on the quality of candidates and local issues and, so it’s always dangerous to project trends based on current results. Pragmatic, problem-solving candidates mostly won. It’s clear that in this rough economy, even in Jordan District that has desperate needs, citizens won’t stand for big tax increases. Even in liberal Colorado, a massive tax increase for education lost big. That doesn’t mean modest tax increases that are carefully targeted and explained, with support of a broad coalition, can’t win. Another lesson: Don’t put big tax boost measures on low-turnout municipal election ballots. Wait for general elections when more people vote.

The New Jersey and Virginia off-year gubernatorial elections are often viewed as predictors of national political trends. Any lessons for 2014?

Pignanelli: I have long maintained that whoever Virginians and New Jerseyans (if that's what you call them) elect as governor means little. But this year could be different, and the GOP is stupid if they do not take note. A gregarious fiscal conservative with moderate social views is re-elected with a large margin in a blue state. Meanwhile, a swing state rejects an ultraconservative in favor of a business friendly Democrat with Clinton ties.

Webb: If Republicans want to save health care from Obamacare, win pro-growth tax reform, and get control of deficits and entitlement programs, they must take control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed how to do it. In a Democratic-leaning state, he won big among Republicans, won women by 15 points, took a majority of Hispanics and won 20 percent of the black vote. He pulled together a great coalition while remaining fiscally conservative and upholding Republican principles. Right-wingers will call him a RINO — and they will keep losing and losing and losing. Reminds me of a recent Wall Street Journal letter to the editor commenting on the government shutdown debacle. Referring to shutdown instigator Jim DeMint and the far right, the author wrote, “I flashed back to Charlie Brown’s lament after his team lost 184-0: ‘How can we lose when we’re so sincere.’ ”

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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