Sean Reyes running to stay on as attorney general |

Sean Reyes running to stay on as attorney general

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was appointed to the post last year by the governor to replace John Swallow. Reyes has been attempting to reform the scandal-plagued office. (Courtesy of Sean Reyes)

Sean Reyes was appointed attorney general of Utah by Governor Gary Herbert last December after the resignation of then-Attorney General John Swallow, who resigned after one scandal-plagued year in office. Utah law requires a special election to be held in such a situation, which is why the post is back up for grabs — Reyes is the Republican party’s nominee.

He spoke this week with The Park Record about why he’s the best person for the job and why citizens of Summit County should vote for him.

"First of all, I think one of the things that distinguishes me in this race is the leadership. I have led a number of large legal teams in mega-cases before I ever became attorney general. Led organizations, nonprofit organizations, statewide education initiative involving thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of participants. All of those things have helped prepare me to serve in this role and during the last nine months I’ve exercised a great deal of leadership and won the trust from the legislature on both sides of the aisle," he said. "Leadership is something that you can’t overstate enough and I know that my opponent has said that he has led some paralegals and his clients and run a small restaurant, I think. Those things are laudable, but it’s a much, much different dynamic to lead an organization of 250 lawyers and 500 full-time employees throughout the state of Utah."

Reyes said he has made commitments in three areas that have been his focus for the past year: protecting children and families from violent crime and drugs, protecting citizens against Ponzi schemes and other white-collar fraud and guarding against "federal intrusion into too many areas."

"I think the citizens of Utah are better off with me because I deliver on my promises," he said, citing progress made in each of those areas — "increasing resources to our Internet Crimes Against Children task force, which is the envy of the other task forces throughout the U.S.," creating a "white collar and markets fraud division" and "trying to defend the laws of Utah, regardless of whether I personally agree with laws or not."

"It’s an important part of the democratic process, that we support the laws that people pass directly through referendum, constitutional amendment, or through their legislators," Reyes said, alluding to the high-profile legal battle over same-sex marriage, as Utah’s ban was passed via a popular-vote constitutional referendum in 2004 with 66 percent of Utahn voters approving (in Summit County, on the other hand, 61 percent voted against the referendum).

"I think the federal government has a role to play, but that role should be more limited, and that the best solutions come from a local level, from Summit County, from the state of Utah, with regard to health care, education, or Second Amendment issues, when it comes to monetary policy, any number of areas — we’re talking about the environment, we’re talking about the Endangered Species Act — these are all areas where I want to make sure there’s more of a balance of local power and not just Federal mandates coming from the Federal government, regardless of whether that’s, again, a Democrat or a Republican in the presidency or controlling Congress," he said.

The attorney general’s office was marred by scandals leading up to Reyes taking over as attorney general, but he thinks those were isolated incidents.

"Whenever a system is abused, I think it’s natural for people to question the system itself. But the reality is, whether an AG is elected or appointed, whether an AG has a structure with two deputies or one deputy, a chief of staff… there are any number of things people could try to point to, but it really comes down to the person in the office," he said.

Reyes said he has instituted "even better firewalls to protect against potential abuses," including one between his job and his campaign.

"I think some of the problems they were running into is they were running campaigns from within the office and the people of Utah, the taxpayers, are never sure whether their funds are going to fund someone’s political agenda or campaign or going to the work of the people," he said.

Reyes noted that his opponent in the upcoming election, Democratic nominee Charles Stormont, has talked a lot about ethics. Reyes said "we cleaned house when we came in in terms of changing leadership at the top [within the attorney general’s office]."

"I made everybody resign, even our top leaders at the division level and the section level, and everyone had to re-apply," he said. "I got calls from the Republican party afterwards, upset that I had elevated and promoted a number of Democrats to key leadership positions, and my response was, well first of all, I don’t ask them when I’m interviewing what their political stripes are, so I’m not even sure how you know they’re Democrats, but even if they are, who cares? I don’t care if they’re Republican or Democrat or independent or green or brown or from this planet or not, I want the people who are the best, most-qualified, most-committed, who are going to do the best job."

Stormont has been critical of the attorney general office’s outdated technology, and Reyes said it is something he has been pursuing "since day one."

Reyes said his office has been working towards that cause with vendors and consultants and other attorney general’s offices, as well as requesting money from the legislature.

"The good part about starting so far behind," he said, "is that when we implement this system, we can do it comprehensively."

Why was the office in a position where it lacked basic technological resources?

"No leadership," Reyes said. "In terms of, where money should have been going to these critical functions like raises and technology, they were getting funneled into political projects or, you know, favors or programs that the AG’s office shouldn’t even be running, little pet projects. And so when you don’t have somebody who’s trying to run it like a business or law office, then these things happen, and they’ve just been allowed to continue and fester."

"I have never been in a turnaround situation as challenging as this," he said.

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