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A.G. candidates disagree on Utah's effort to control federal lands

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 16 2012 5:09 p.m. MDT

Attorney general candidate John Swallow in Salt Lake City  Thursday, June 14, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Attorney general candidate John Swallow in Salt Lake City Thursday, June 14, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Two candidates for Utah attorney general expressed contrasting views Tuesday on so-called message lawsuits aimed at the federal government or other entities.

Democrat Dee Smith and Republican John Swallow haven't uttered a bad word about each other during their campaigns, and that continued during a debate sponsored by the Salt Lake Rotary Club. But that doesn't mean they don't have differences of opinion.

One thing Smith said he wouldn't do as attorney general is file what he sees as frivolous lawsuits, specifically taking aim at Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's effort to break up college football's Bowl Championship Series.

"I hate the BCS as much as anybody, but we're not going to waste time and resources on those types of lawsuits," said Smith, the Weber County attorney.

Weber County Attorney Dee Smith talks to a colleague in 2nd District Court in Ogden June 11, 2012. He is running for attorney general. (Matthew Arden Hatfield, ) Weber County Attorney Dee Smith talks to a colleague in 2nd District Court in Ogden June 11, 2012. He is running for attorney general. (Matthew Arden Hatfield, )

Shurtleff has been conducting an antitrust investigation into the BCS to determine whether it illegally deprives universities an equal chance to compete for championships and share in revenues. He has threatened to sue the system for nearly two years.

Swallow, Shurtleff's chief deputy, neither defended nor denounced that effort but said he's "not going to be filing lawsuits that have zero chance of moving the public needle."

And, he said, that goes for any lawsuit Utah might consider in its fight to take control of federal lands in the state.

Still, Swallow said he's a proponent of taking on the federal government over public lands. He said Utah needs the ability to develop its natural resources to create jobs and bring more tax revenue to public schools.

Smith said Utah gave up rights to those lands at statehood. Legislative attorneys, he said, have told lawmakers that the attempt to wrest them from the federal government would be found unconstitutional.

"We're not going to win," he said.

Swallow also defended Utah's role in the lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act commonly called Obamacare.

"Lots of great things came out of that," he said.

The outcome preserved the commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution by not requiring people to buy health insurance, he said. It also allowed states to decide whether to expand Medicaid.

Smith disagreed that Utah had much to do with the outcome and that the money the state spent could have been used better elsewhere.

The candidates also had different views on payday loans.

Swallow said people have the right to obtain credit wherever it makes sense to them. The state, he said, regulated payday lenders and said they can only earn interest on a loan for 10 weeks.

Smith said lenders aren't regulated enough. They prey on vulnerable people who can never get out from under the debt and the state needs to do more to protect them, he said.

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