Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Tuesday he didn't believe the Republican Party would be hurt by allegations that one of its candidates for state treasurer attempted to bribe his primary opponent to drop out of the race.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, lost the primary and faces both criminal and ethics investigations into allegations he illegally promised his opponent, chief deputy state treasurer Richard Ellis, that he could keep his job at a higher salary if he agreed to quit running.
"I'm not at all chagrined this is going forward," Huntsman told the Deseret News in a telephone interview from Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he was installed as the new chair of the Western Governors' Association.
"I don't think it's bad for the party," the governor said of the investigations. "Sometimes when there's smoke, there might even be fire. When people sense something may have went on during the election, they want to get to the bottom of it."
Huntsman said the interest in the allegations "proves the public cares about ethics and integrity." The governor, who instituted an ethics policy for the executive branch, said he hopes that interest will translate into further reforms.
"We ought to always be looking at better ways to conduct elections," he said. Ellis, who beat Walker in the GOP primary, filed an elections complaint with Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert in late May. Herbert waited until after the June 24 election to refer the complaint to the attorney general's office, which brought in special counsel to conduct a criminal investigation.
The House Ethics Committee will meet Monday to consider whether Walker should be disciplined or even expelled from the Legislature. Walker has denied any wrongdoing, although he has said he told Ellis he would keep the treasurer's staff intact if elected. Huntsman did not make an endorsement in the treasurer's race, even though Ellis served as his budget director at the beginning of the governor's term. The governor said Tuesday he made the right decision.
"I don't think people care much about endorsements," he said. "They're always way overblown in terms of importance."
Huntsman also declined to back a candidate in the 3rd Congressional District race, even though his former campaign manager and chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz, was challenging Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah. Chaffetz won the primary.The governor said he spoke to Chaffetz after the election. "I've talked to Jason, and I told him I'll do whatever I can to help him, and I support him fully," Huntsman said. "Richard Ellis, the same goes for him."
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