ST. GEORGE — As election day approaches and ballots are sent out across the state, three men are vying for the Utah Attorney General Seat: The incumbent, Republican Sean Reyes, and challengers Greg Skordas, Democrat, and Rudy Bautista, Libertarian.
St. George News spoke with each candidate to learn more about them and their positions before voters head to the polls.
Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job and what issues are most pressing to you?
Reyes: “I have the most leadership experience. I’ve produced results for the state of Utah.”
On Dec. 30, Reyes will have been Utah’s Attorney General for seven years. He touted his years of experience along with his established connections with people across the political spectrum that he said have allowed him to have great successes for the state.
“A lot of work I do is bipartisan. I have those established relationships. They know me, they call me, they trust that I or my team will be there to support them,” Reyes said.
Reyes attributed a large portion of his success to his work ethic and said that nobody works harder than he does for Utah.
“Nobody is going to outwork me,” he said.
Reyes said that if he is reelected, he plans to continue to prioritize protecting the most vulnerable populations in the state, including women, veterans, seniors and, especially, children.
The attorney general is known for his efforts against child trafficking and said he has been proud to help Utah become a national and global leader in that work.
Reyes said he has worked with politicians and lawmakers at the highest level, including former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, on issues like child trafficking that he said are not partisan issues but American issues, human rights issues.
Reyes said integrity and ethics are huge for him … as well as experience and results.
“We’re going to fight to win the right way,” he said.
Bautista: “I have the experience as a defense attorney of over 20 years.”
In addition to his experience as a criminal defense attorney, Bautista said what sets him apart is his military background.
Bautista is a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, and served in the Navy and as a Merchant Marine. Bautista graduated from the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at BYU.
Originally from California, Bautista said he liked Utah so much that he decided to stay.
If elected, Bautista said one of his goals would be to bring integrity back to the attorney general’s office, something he said is missing starting with the way campaign contributions are made.
“I am the only candidate who has purposely made an effort not to receive campaign contributions,” he said, adding that he believes that campaigns should be run without the interference of financial interests or lobbying.
He also believes each candidate should run on the public forum and get equal air time.
Bautista said he intends to take a deeper look into large pharmaceutical companies that he said hold too much of a monopoly and make too much money with little regulation.
“People’s lives are at risk because we have given monopolies to these companies and allowed them to make too much money,” Bautista said.
Skordas: “I understand Utah and the Utah populace better than anyone else.”
Skordas touts being the only candidate born and raised in Utah. This puts him in the unique position, he said, of understanding and serving the people of the state throughout his career as a public defender, a prosecutor and a private practitioner.
A stated goal on his campaign website is to have an attorney general’s office that is responsive to the needs of the people in the state.
The longtime attorney said he has prosecuted cases in every county in the state and in every court.
“That’s important,” he said. “I think we need someone who is here in Utah. That’s who I am.”
Of critical importance for Skordas is health care and making sure that those who need it most, have access to it.
This is particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Skordas was critical of Reyes who joined a national effort by some attorney generals to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“I can’t believe he would think to deprive Utahns of medical coverage, especially during a pandemic,” Skordas said.
Like Bautista, Skordas also believes that the office of the Attorney General should not be “for sale,” as he believes it currently is.
“There is a history of the attorney general’s office being for sale,” Skordas said, questioning some of Reyes’ campaign contributions.
“That has to stop, that absolutely has to stop.”
In light of national and local news about incidents of alleged police brutality, do our laws allow us to appropriately deal with problem police officers?
Bautista: While Bautista recognized that incidents of police brutality are a historic issue and one that needs to be monitored, he doesn’t feel that it is a priority in Utah.
“Our laws do allow us to (monitor). However, we don’t have that problem in this state.”
Bautista pointed to body cameras officers wear, which he said go a long way to helping determine whether an officer was justified in using deadly force.
However, Bautista said that more transparency is always better and he touted the idea of creating a panel comprised of law enforcement officers, attorneys, civilians and others to help determine whether an officer was justified in their actions.
“It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, but officers have to react to the situation that they are in,” he said.
Those officers found to have violated the law, Bautista said, should and would absolutely be prosecuted.
Skordas: The Democrat said the state does “a fairly good job” of policing the police starting at the very beginning with the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training, which he said provides “professional standards and training, leadership and certification for peace officers and dispatchers as we work to protect the rights and privileges of Utah’s citizens while elevating the integrity of the profession.”
The standards, he said, have done a good job disciplining and, sometimes, suspending problem police officers.
At the same time, he added there are always better ways to investigate incidents with more transparency and less conflict of interest.
“The public perception is that police look out for themselves. I think we’re doing our jobs very well, but we need more transparency to the public,” Skordas said.
Reyes: “I think by and large, the laws are sufficient in the books to hold them accountable.”
Reyes said that Utah has made great strides to hold law enforcement more accountable and provide more transparency to the public, but there is always room for some improvement.
“Can we pass better laws? Yes. Can we have better programs? Absolutely. Can they (police officers) be more respectful of minority communities? Yes,” he said.
For Reyes, it all starts with more and better training, as well as mental health resources for officers.
“We need better mental health and holistic care for police officers. Imagine what they deal with? It sears their soul. It makes them vulnerable to PTSD, depression and makes them respond in erratic ways,” Reyes said.
Along with better mental health care, Reyes cites training programs already in place such as violence de-escalation and virtual reality simulations Reyes said help officers be better prepared, more stable and more able to respond.
“Utah is doing well,” Reyes said. “We’re not perfect but we have some great resources here.”
When do you think state mandates are appropriate, if at all, when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Skordas: “I think state mandates are important when you are dealing with public health.”
For Skordas, a mask mandate is no different than mandating the use of car seats or seat belts to keep people safe.
“The state has the right to come in and take measures to assist public safety and public health, and COVID is no different,” he said.
The problem, Skordas said, is that people still think that COVID is a hoax and people will insist it is their right not to wear a mask.
But, he added, it is actually a public health issue around the world.
And while he asserts the state does have the right to come in and mandate that people wear masks, he also believes that individuals should do it on their own to protect their community.
“You’ve got to wear a mask,” he said. “It’s a small thing to do.”
Bautista: “The reality of it is, is that mandates that are not supported by constitutional protections should be illegal.”
Bautista is concerned that mask mandates in the state – in schools and state facilities for instance – have been pushed through without any checks or balances or any oversight from the judicial or legislative branches of the government.
While Bautista said that businesses and private enterprises are absolutely within their right to require masks, he worries that state mandates violate the constitutional protections of its citizens.
“Mandates are being forwarded with no constitutional review. We have just been ignoring the constitutional protection of our citizens,” Bautista said.
Reyes: As acting Attorney General, Reyes said he was unable to answer this question due to current or potential lawsuits against the state of Utah and in the interest of protecting his client(s).
As attorney general, what would you do to curtail drug trafficking from out of state on I-15 in border areas like St. George?
Reyes: “We (the attorney general’s office) work very closely with all the narcotics task forces statewide.”
Narcotics, he said, are intertwined with almost every level of crime and it is important to have relationships with each law enforcement agency from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to county sheriff’s offices as they work to protect the citizens of the state.
“We work closely with agencies at the federal level, the state level as well as with regional and localized task forces,” Reyes said.
Reyes said that in his years as attorney general, they have already had great successes.
“We’ve taken down some of the biggest, baddest traffickers in the history of Utah,” he said.
Bautista: “If there is evidence that people are smuggling drugs into Utah for trafficking purposes, they should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.”
However, Bautista said, that is not always the case when officers are making stops on the interstate.
Bautista expressed concern that some officers are targeting out-of-state plates simply on a hunch that they might have drugs, he said.
“That is unconstitutional and they should not be doing it,” Bautista said.
Skordas: “Police need training to deal with legal stops.”
Skordas knows, he said, that both Interstate 15 and Interstate 80 are pipelines for drug trafficking into the state and that traffickers that are caught should be charged and punished appropriately.
Skordas said he believes the Utah Highway Patrol, local DEA and metro narcotics task forces do a good job and are well-trained, but, he added, he believes resources could be bolstered to make sure that officers have the tools they need to show that their stops, searches and conversations were appropriate and legal.
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