Political groups call for Gov. Gary Herbert to appoint interim attorney general

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10 2013 4:09 p.m. MST

Two political advocacy groups want Gov. Gary Herbert to appoint an interim attorney general to replace John Swallow.

Tom Smart, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two political advocacy groups want Gov. Gary Herbert to appoint an interim attorney general to replace John Swallow.

Utahns for Ethical Government and the Alliance for a Better Utah asked the governor in a letter Tuesday to appoint someone who would not run for election in 2014. They also see Swallow's resignation as an opportunity to press Herbert for stronger election laws.

The ideal candidate must be "ethically, morally and legally" above reproach, according to the letter.

"Someone who is not seen as a partisan insider who hopes to hold the office for the long term. Rather, someone who will take the reins, roll up his or her sleeves, and do what’s necessary to restore integrity to the office, and then leave,” the letter states.

Nine candidates filed with Utah Republican Party to replace Swallow, who resigned last week after 11 scandal-ridden months in office.

Acting Attorney General Brian Tarbet and former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins have said they would not run if appointed. Former Iron County prosecutor Scott Burns initially said he wouldn't run but has reconsidered.

Swallow's GOP primary election opponent Sean Reyes; Salt Lake attorney Bret Rawson; federal prosecutor Brent Ward; Robert Smith, BYU International Center for Law and Religion studies managing director; and Michelle Mumford, BYU law school assistant dean of admissions, apparently would seek election next November. Ward said he wouldn't campaign until a month before Election Day.

Former federal prosecutor Stephen Sorenson withdrew from contention.

The Utah Republican Party scheduled a candidate debate for 6 p.m. Wednesday that will be streamed live on its website and broadcast to a location in each county. KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright will be the moderator.

The GOP State Central Committee will meet Saturday to nominate three people for the governor to consider. The person he picks would face election in 2014 to fill the remaining two years of Swallow's term.

Herbert's chief of staff Derek Miller said last week the governor sees value in having someone focused on restoring the public trust and morale in the office, but isn't necessarily convinced that the right person couldn't do that and run for election.

Better Utah and Utahns for Ethical Government say Herbert discretion to go outside the three nominees if he can't find a candidate "with no political ambition" among them.

While state law allows a political party to select three candidates to fill a vacancy in the attorney general's office, the Utah Constitution says only that he must appoint someone from the same party as the previous officeholder.

David Irvine, a Utahns for Ethical Government lawyer and former Republican legislator, said if the GOP doesn't send the governor any suitable choices he should defer his decision until it does.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, once considered a front-runner for the job, didn't get into the race but was one of the first to suggest Herbert appoint a caretaker for the next year. Valentine said the governor should choose someone who would "clean house" over the next year without campaigning for office.

Democrats, who haven't held the attorney general's office since 2000, jumped on that idea, but only after abandoning plans to challenge the state's process for filling the vacancy and calls for a special election next June.

Better Utah filed the complaint that led to the state elections office finding probable cause that Swallow broke campaign finance disclosure laws. The state declined to pursue a civil complaint against Swallow because he stepped down.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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