The Utah House of Representatives made history on July 3 as they voted to create a special committee to investigate Attorney General John Swallow. This is the first in series of steps that could lead towards impeachment proceedings.
As we have watched the Swallow scandal unfold over the last several months, we have watched the continued erosion of public trust in not only the attorney general (and by extension, his office) but also of all elected officials. As the saying goes, "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch."
Of course, that isn't really the case. Most of our elected officials conduct themselves ethically and attempt to make the right decisions for their constituents. But the fact remains that when one of them appears to be so void of integrity, it bleeds over into the public's view of other elected leaders.
With the July 3 decision, the Legislature will take on the responsibility of investigating all of the charges, allegations and possible misdeeds of the attorney general. They chose not to instigate impeachment proceedings — instead opting for an investigative committee first, even though impeachment requires a full investigation. This committee will present its findings to the House who will then decide if the facts support beginning impeachment proceedings. The unfortunate addition of this step will, no doubt, lengthen the whole process significantly — a process the public is anxious to see come to some sort of resolution.
This process comes not only with great responsibility, but also with an incredible opportunity. The Legislature, led by Speaker Becky Lockhart, has the opportunity to restore the public's trust by ensuring that this investigation is open and transparent. That trust can be further solidified by encouraging this committee to reach beyond just this investigation and to recommend real and meaningful ethics and campaign reform legislation that will safeguard the public's interest from this sort of scandal by Utah's elected officials in the future.
Unfortunately, the Legislature was unwilling to set any sort of bipartisan threshold or even guidelines for participation, so the power is entirely in the hands of Speaker Lockhart to determine the makeup of the investigative committee. Still, we remain cautiously optimistic that the truth will prevail and that the appearance of a lack of integrity and ethics by the attorney general will be countered by the committee selected to investigate him.
Heard all too often on the hill is, "The public should trust us to do what is right." And while these men and women are elected to represent their constituents, that does not mean that their trust is given blindly or without the need or interest in transparency. When government is managed behind closed doors, regardless of the outcome, trust is lost. As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust but verify." The public needs to have the ability to verify, even if that process is uncomfortable.
But just because the process may be uncomfortable for some, or how loathe some lawmakers will be to conduct this type of business publicly, no reason should take precedence over the paramount importance of the public's ability to participate in the process. To Speaker Lockhart, the investigative committee, and the full House: Please give us a reason to trust you.
Maryann Martindale is the executive director of Alliance for a Better UTAH. Jenn Gonnelly is the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Utah.
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