Paul Van Dam says it's too early to know what changes are in store for Utah's attorney general's office, but he wants people to know partisan politics won't get in the way and the state will not skip a beat in its high-profile cases.
He delivered that message in a conversation with newly elected Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter after the election."It was a fairly short conversation, but meaningful," Van Dam, who unseated two-term incumbent David Wilkinson, said Thursday. "We basically agreed the political season is behind us. I don't think there will be any problem there. Norm Bangerter has his priorities in the right order."
When Van Dam recites the oath of office in January he will become Utah's highest-ranking elected Democrat on the state level - the only Democratic voice in an office across a cavernous Capitol Rotunda from a Republican governor, auditor and treasurer.
He believes there is a message in all that. The message is that Utahns put a lot of thought into their votes.
"It's a reaffirmation of the fact people are alive and awake in this state," Van Dam said. "They knew who I was and what I stood for. It was gratifying for me to see that. We have a good bunch of people in this state."
Van Dam is planning a short vacation before making serious decisions about the attorney general's office. However, he says a few things already are certain.
Despite his opposition to it, he will not drop the state's case against Reps. Mont Evans and Janet Rose, two state legislators who also work as employees of the state's executive branch. Wilkinson sued the two lawmakers, saying they were violating the state Constitution by simultaneously serving in two branches of government.
Wilkinson already has lost several rounds in the case and has refiled it with a technical change. He now wants the court to determine whether the legislators can be forced to resign their state jobs, rather than whether they can be forced to resign their elected posts. The case is pending in 3rd District Court.
Van Dam used that case, as well as the defense of the highly publicized Cable TV Decency Act, against Wilkinson in the campaign. But Van Dam said he wants to continue the case against Evans and Rose to resolve the question once and for all.
As for the state's efforts under Wilkinson to execute convicted killers such as William Andrews and Ronald Lafferty, Van Dam said he will continue the fight. The transition in leadership will not delay the execution efforts.
"If there's anything that happens like that it will be over my dead body," he said.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson held a news conference Wednesday to congratulate Van Dam and offer his support during the transition.
He admitted he may have alienated voters by sticking with some fights, such as defense of the Cable TV Act, until the bitter end.
"Perhaps I wasn't pragmatic enough," he said, noting he made decisions he felt were right, although they may have been politically wrong.