ST. GEORGE – In the wake of the Republican caucus meetings held last week, candidates seeking their party’s nomination in upcoming county and state-level conventions have begun to meet with delegates across the state. One state-level candidate who visited St. George Saturday was Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Reyes currently fills the position as an appointee following the resignation of former Attorney General John Swallow. He is also seeking to be elected to the remaining two years of what would have originally been Swallow’s term in office.
Reyes said he believes the position of the state attorney general should be elected by the people, and not appointed as some state legislators recently pushed for. “I think it’s critical that the voices of the people be able to select the attorney general and have that person accountable to the people rather than taking that away.”
Stopping by Vernon Worthen Park in St. George, Saturday, Reyes met with party delegates and prospective voters and discussed issues facing the state.
Commenting on the status of the continuing court battle around Amendment 3, Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, Reyes said his office will be arguing the case before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on April 10. Depending on how the court rules, the case could be in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during its October term.
“It’ll likely go to the Supreme Court regardless of the outcome in the Tenth Circuit,” Reyes said. He also stated he is a supporter of traditional marriage.
Amendment 3 was struck down by a federal district judge on Dec. 20 who pronounced it unconstitutional. Over 1,300 same-sex couples were married in the state between then and Jan. 6, when the Supreme Court put a stay on the lower court’s ruling pending Utah’s appeal. With Amendment 3 reinstated as state law for the time being, the state government is not authorized to recognized same-sex marriages, including those performed in the wake of the Dec. 20 decision.
A recurring issue in practically any political race is transparency. Reyes said his campaign is self-imposing its own rules on transparency. He specifically mentioned how campaign donations would be handled.
“We’re imposing rules to not take any donations from venders that work with the AG’s office, or any entity that’s being investigated by the AG’s office,” he said. “That may sound obvious to some people, but it’s something that’s been an issue previously.”
Former Attorney General John Swallow resigned from office amid investigations that he violated state campaign finance laws, among other accusations. The special committee established by the Utah House to investigate Swallow recently released its findings accusing him of abusing his position with the attorney general’s office for personal and professional gain.
Reyes also said he’s made it clear that even though he is campaigning, he is keeping his office teams and political teams separate, and that state business takes priority. “The primary hat I wear is as lawyer of the state of Utah, and the business of Utah comes first,” he said.
In the wake of the Swallow scandal, Reyes said many audits have been conducted at the attorney general’s office, tens of thousands of documents have been supplied to investigators, and changes in leadership in the office have taken place.
“We’ve started to hear already from the Legislature, from the executive branch, and from many citizens throughout the state that they are feeling more confident in the office and we plan to continue on that trajectory,” Reyes said.
Public land issues
Public land issues continue to be a heavily contested one, especially when it comes to the question of who better manages those lands – the state or the federal government?
“I am a strong supporter of the states being able to exercise their own authority,” Reyes said, noting his office is working on the matter and looking at the possibilities of the state taking control of public lands or being better compensated for them.
Reyes said the state also continues to fight for its RS2477 roads. These roads allow access to parts of Utah’s public lands. In 2012 the state filed lawsuits against the federal government, accusing it of illegally taking control of the nearly 4,000 roads in the state.
“Those (roads) are critical to be able to preserve what rightfully are easements of the state of Utah and land that should be controlled by the state of Utah,” Reyes said.
“Sadly, many Republican and conservative colleagues of ours are not aware of the issue (of public lands) or are not educated on the issue,” Reyes added. “So I think that a part of my role as a representative of the state is to make sure we start to educate.”
Ultimately there will be a political and likely litigative solution to the public lands issue, he said.
“We’ve committed to that issue absolutely,” Reyes said.
Count My Vote compromise: The attorney general can’t pick and choose what laws to enforce
“We’ve not released any official statement about it,” Reyes said about Senate Bill 54, the so-called Count My Vote compromise bill that the Legislature recently passed. However, Reyes said the attorney general’s office did express some constitutional concerns about the legislation to state legislators before it became law.
The new law will allow political candidates to bypass the caucus-convention system and go to a direct primary starting in 2016. It also stipulates that state political parties hold open primaries so unaffiliated voters can participate. The Utah Republican Party has long held closed primaries.
Before the law was passed, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, stated he believes the bill violates the constitutional rights of the state party in relation to freedoms of expression, speech and association. As such, the state could face a legal challenge from the Utah Republican Party over perceived state interference in the party’s candidate selection process.
“The irony here is many people throughout the state know I am one of the strongest supporters of the caucus-convention system,” Reyes said. “If the party sues the state, the one defending that (law) will be me.”
As the Utah Attorney General, Reyes said, it is his job to uphold state laws. “I am a supporter of the rule of law, and the idea is the attorney general defends and enforces the laws that are passed by the legislature. You can’t have an AG picking and choosing which laws to enforce.”
He also said the attorney general is elected to run the state’s law firm, and not to be an extension of the governor or the Legislature.
Along with visiting delegates and others in St. George, Reyes visited the Washington County Children’s Justice Center as a part of a tour that included similar centers in Iron and Kane County.
- ‘Count My Vote’ bill passes state house, senate, heads to governor
- House committee releases Swallow report; names of Sens. Lee, Reid appear in county attorneys’ investigation
- U.S. Supreme Court halts same-sex marriages in Utah
- Utah launches lawsuit to secure rights to public roads
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