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Utah A.G. race: Reluctant candidate Dee Smith vs. candidate-in-waiting John Swallow

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 10:42 a.m. MDT

Weber County Attorney Dee Smith talks to a colleague during a hearing about a gang injunction for the Ogden Trece gang at 2nd District Court in Ogden on Monday, June 11, 2012. (Matthew Arden Hatfield) Weber County Attorney Dee Smith talks to a colleague during a hearing about a gang injunction for the Ogden Trece gang at 2nd District Court in Ogden on Monday, June 11, 2012. (Matthew Arden Hatfield)

SALT LAKE CITY — Dee Smith was a reluctant candidate for Utah attorney general.

Local Democratic Party leaders spent a couple of months persuading the Weber County attorney to throw his hat into the ring after he initially declined their advances. Support from police officers, he said, finally pushed him to enter the race.

"I'm happy to be here," the soft-spoken Smith said recently. "I'm excited for the race now."

On the other hand, Republican John Swallow was the candidate-in-waiting, retiring three-term Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's handpicked successor.

Shurtleff's chief deputy since 2009, Swallow is no stranger to politics. He served in the Utah Legislature for six years and ran two unsuccessful campaigns for Congress.

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)

"I'm ready to go," he said during a debate. "I'm anxious to go."

And his campaign war chest shows it.

Swallow has raised $1.2 million, including $250,000 from a super PAC tied to national GOP strategist Karl Rove, according to his most recent financial disclosure report.

Smith has raised only $47,000.

Swallow makes no apologies for the sum or the six-figure Republican State Leadership Committee contribution. He said campaigns are expensive and he's "proud" of the donation. The money, he said, won't entitle anyone to special favors or preferences. He said if a conflict arises, someone else in the office would make the decision.

Smith said he finds the amount of money in politics "troubling." In the past, he said, the attorney general has received contributions from people who were under investigation.

"That can't happen," he said.

A former LDS Church seminary teacher, Smith said he knew going in he'd have to rely on grass-roots donations. He said he hasn't raised much because he hasn't asked for much.

"I just think of the places that money could go," Smith said.

But he didn't want to comment specifically on Swallow's campaign funds.

"I'm doing what I can to be competitive in this race," he said. "I'm going to leave it at that."

Money isn't the only thing that separates the two candidates. 

Smith touts his experience as a criminal prosecutor. He has won convictions for murder, gang violence and child sexual abuse. He has argued cases before the Utah Supreme Court and the Utah Court of Appeals. He worked with Ogden police to obtain an injunction restricting gang members from associating in certain areas. He helped develop mental health and DUI courts in Weber County.

Swallow concedes he has never been a prosecutor but said he helps manage the state's largest law firm. He has represented state agencies, worked with the governor and the Legislature, and served on the Constitutional Defense Council. He also worked as a litigator and shareholder in a Salt Lake City law firm.

The attorney general's office has a $48 million budget and about 230 lawyers.

Both candidates say making communities safer and protecting children from Internet crimes are among their top priorities.

Swallow and Smith differ in their opinions on Utah suing the federal government to gain control of public land and to overturn the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

"I'm not a fan for what I call the message lawsuit, where we take on the federal government just to make a point," Smith said.

Those lawsuits, he said, are a waste of money.

"Absolutely not," Swallow counters.

Suing over Obamacare, he said, preserved the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Not standing up to the federal government on federal lands gives away the ability to fund public education, he said. Money earned on those lands would go to improve the school system.

"If we don't have access to our energy, we will never get it done," Swallow said.

Smith and Swallow disagree about whether the attorney general's office is partisan. Smith says it isn’t; Swallow says it is.

"I intend to be an attorney general who takes the politics out of the office," Smith said.

As the state's top law enforcer, he said the attorney general needs to focus on Internet crimes against children, affinity fraud and funding drug courts.

While Swallow said it is a partisan office, the job is enforcing the laws of the state. Policy matters, he said, are best left to the Legislature.

Still, his campaign has centered on fighting what he sees as federal intrusions into people's lives. As chief deputy attorney general, he said he doubled the legal team working on the public lands lawsuit.

Swallow said he would use the resources and tools available to push back against Washington.

John Swallow

Age: 49

Occupation: Chief deputy attorney general

Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology, law degree, both from BYU

Political experience: State representative, six years; two failed congressional campaigns

Family: Wife, Suzanne; five children

Residence: Sandy

Website: www.johnswallow.com

Dee Smith

Age: 44

Occupation: Weber County attorney

Education: Bachelor's degree in history, Weber State University; law degree, University of Utah

Political experience: First-time candidate

Family: Wife, Cherrie; four children

Residence: South Ogden

Website: www.deesmithforag.com

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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