I've been around a lot of politicians and I've been around a lot of attorneys general. This guy is the real deal. —Steve Mikita
SALT LAKE CITY — One of the guys in a Darth Vader costume at Salt Lake Comic Con last year was Sean Reyes.
He couldn't make his way into the Salt Palace Convention Center for hours because of all the people stopping him for pictures. He went back the next day as Darth Maul.
"My 14-year-old son says, 'Dad, you should have worn this on the campaign. You're way more popular here than anywhere you ever went,'" Reyes says in a low, raspy voice due to being under the weather.
Reyes lost the attorney general's race to John Swallow in the 2012 Republican primary election. Little did he know that 18 months later, Gov. Gary Herbert would appoint him to replace Swallow, who resigned last December amid public corruption allegations.
At this year's Salt Lake Comic Con, Reyes went as himself on the advice of his wife, Saysha, who didn't want him to be the target of political jokes.
Reyes, 43, has spent the past 10 months trying to remove the dark shadow hanging over the attorney general's office.
Now he's in a race to fill the remaining two years of Swallow's term. His approach against Democrat Charles Stormont has been decidedly low-key. No TV or radio ads so far, and he's dialed back the campaigning.
"I think my best campaign message is to do an excellent job of being attorney general right now," he said.
Excellence is something Reyes' parents demanded of him growing up in Southern California. His mother, a teacher and principal, grounded him for the summer because he got an A-minus in AP calculus his sophomore year of high school.
Not that he had anywhere to go. Reyes spent summers tending to avocado and taro plants on his grandparents' farm in Hawaii.
"He's always been a hard worker," said Saysha Reyes, who met him in English class at BYU. "He likes a challenge."
Reyes has high expectations for his own six children — five boys and one girl ages 4 to 16 — but tries to tamp down the heavy demands his parents placed on him.
"He demands what he knows they can give," his wife said.
And to clear up any questions about Reyes' ethnicity: His father, Norberto "Buddy" Reyes, is Spanish and Filipino; his mother, Annette, is Japanese and native Hawaiian.
"I never really felt like I was any one thing," Reyes said. "I was just part of all of what we were."
He speaks a second language, Spanish, which he learned serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints in Chicago.
Reyes also has some politics in his blood. His dad's uncle, Ramon Magsaysay, was president of the Philippines in the 1950s.
Reyes described his father as a "fierce" Republican who was involved in local politics in Inglewood, California, where the family lived before moving to the San Fernando Valley. Buddy Reyes, an artist and filmmaker, once dressed his young son in Richard Nixon pajamas and paraded him around the mostly Democratic neighborhood.
Steve Mikita has worked for six attorneys general in his 32 years in the office, and says he's not an easy sell. He'd never met Reyes until he took office, but was immediately impressed.
"I've been around a lot of politicians and I've been around a lot of attorneys general. This guy is the real deal," he said.
Mikita said Reyes is a good listener who challenges his colleagues on their views but doesn't come across as someone who thinks he knows it all. He said Reyes is comfortable with himself, confident in his ability to lead and open to new ideas.
Childhood friend Eric DeLange recalls Reyes as gregarious, the life of the party "but not in a bad or reckless way." He'd brought others into his circle of friends at dances and in other social settings. He also described Reyes as bright and someone who was aware of what was going on in the world.
"He was cool smart, if you will," said DeLange, an Air Force colonel stationed in Oklahoma.
Though politics was a big topic of conversation around his house as a kid, Reyes said he never really had any ambition for office until people encouraged him to run for attorney general in 2012.
After graduating law school at the University of California, Berkeley, Reyes settled into private practice at Parsons Behle & Latimer where he was the first minority to make partner. He later worked as general counsel for eTagz, a Utah digital media company.
"I think he's a first-rate lawyer and a first-rate guy," said lawyer Mike Bailey, who practiced with Reyes at Parsons.
Bailey said Reyes was a good lawyer who understood people and how to manage them. He also was a persuasive recruiter of law school graduates to the firm.
At the young age of 33, the LDS Church called Reyes to serve as bishop of the downtown Salt Lake ward in which he lived at the time. He said he worked with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including many gay returned Mormon missionaries.
Asked if that experience shaped his views on same-sex marriage, he declined to talk about his personal opinion on the issue. He has maintained that his role as attorney general is to defend the state's laws, including the now overturned Amendment 3.
Reyes said he would reserve discussing his personal feelings on same-sex marriage to when he's no longer the attorney general or when there are no more active court cases on the issue.
The same-sex marriage case and restructuring the office has made for long work days, which don't end when he goes home. He typically reads and sends email from 10 p.m. to 2 or 3 in the morning, with ESPN's "SportsCenter" on in the background.
In his free time, he plays early morning basketball and still enjoys reading the comic books he did as a kid.
"Frankly, when you're growing up in an environment like I grew up in, a lot of times that was a nice escape to think that you're Luke Skywalker," he said. "There were a lot of good positive role models from the Avengers or the X-Men."
Sean Reyes, Republican
Defending state laws: The attorney general has an obligation to uphold and defend the laws passed by the Legislature and voters whether he personally agrees with them or not, Reyes said. Doing otherwise thwarts the democratic process and sets a "dangerous precedent."
Restoring public trust: Reyes said he is pushing the office in the right direction with leadership changes and promotions based solely on merit to diffuse perceptions of cronyism or political favoritism. He restructured an internal ethics commission and has created a public corruption unit.
Campaign finance: Reyes separated the campaign and legal sides of the office to insulate it from special interests and unscrupulous contributors. He said no more would people on the campaign side influence who gets prosecuted and who gets a pass.
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