Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What's to be done with a new AG and Medicaid expansion?

Published: Sunday, Dec. 8 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Brian Tarbet, general counsel for the Utah Attorney General's Office, talks Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, about overseeing the office until a new attorney general is selected.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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The deep freeze gripping Utah has certainly not iced up political discussions. Our thoughts on current issues:

As a replacement for John Swallow, should the Republican Central Committee and the governor appoint a “caretaker” who will clean up the place and not seek election in 2014, or someone who wants to serve long term?

Pignanelli: "A lot of history is just dirty politics cleaned up for the consumption of children and other innocents." — Richard Reeves

Political ghouls like me were absolutely intrigued, and entertained, with the Swallow controversy. But mentally well-adjusted Utahns are fatigued and deserve a reprieve.

An ambitious replacement with hopes for service beyond one year will begin his/her campaign within in 60 days. This will include outreach to delegates, a convention and possible primary strategy, followed by a general election stretch. Most of this time fundraising will be the main activity — which will interfere with the effort to rehabilitate the perception and reputation of this office.

But don't take the word of this miserable political hack. Universally respected Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, when announcing his refusal of candidacy for appointment as replacement, recommended the interim attorney general should not run in the special election for the reasons mentioned above.

Utahns have a holiday wish that the Republican activists disregard partisan ideological litmus tests when selecting nominees. The interim attorney general must be above reproach in his/her dealings as an attorney and not wanting to settle scores. Further, the Central Committee should recommend that all candidates in the special election agree to voluntary limits on campaign contributions. This will help restore the dignity and respect of the state's chief law enforcement officer.

Webb: Getting the right person is more important than whether the person is a caretaker or plans to seek election. By our column deadline, a number of excellent and qualified candidates had filed for the job. The Central Committee should forward the best three candidates to the governor. The governor should simply choose the best person, someone with the stature to restore instant credibility to the office.

For example, former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins, who has said he won’t seek election in his own right, would be a terrific choice. But so would Sean Reyes, a respected attorney who ran previously for the job and would seek election next year. With the right person, either model can work.

A number of health care organizations and low-income advocacy groups have endorsed Medicaid expansion in Utah. At some point, the governor and Legislature must make a very difficult decision. What should they do?

Pignanelli: There is tremendous human need that is not covered by Medicaid, while much nonsense is paid. Almost 30 percent of Utah maternity deliveries are sponsored through Medicaid. A minority are undocumented workers, signifying affluent families are manipulating the system. But here lies an opportunity. In exchange for expansion, our officials should push for greater flexibility from the federal government to administer needed reforms, and establishing Utah as a model for efficiency (a worthy endeavor because the Obamacare safety net may collapse).

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