On Wednesday, the Utah House of Representatives will formally come together to decide whether to create a committee to investigate the many allegations surrounding scandal-laden Utah Republican Attorney General John Swallow.
Representative Dean Sanpei (R – Provo), no doubt at the request of Speaker Becky Lockhart (R – Orem) and other House leadership, has released HR 9001 – House Rules Resolution Forming Special Investigative Committee, he being the logical choice to introduce the legislation as chair of the powerful Rules Committee.
Unfortunately, Utah Political Capitol is extremely disappointed by Sanpei and Lockhart’s opening move in the unprecedented events surrounding the possible impeachment of John Swallow. As written, the resolution would create a committee consisting of nine legislators appointed by the Speaker.
The impeachment process is not only rare in Utah, but across the nation. There are only a handful of states who have gone through the process in recent history—in many ways, Utah will be used as a case study for the other 49 states down the road if they ever face similar circumstances and accusations of corruption, moving them to go through their own impeachment process.
For Speaker Lockhart to create a nine member panel, of her choosing, is to brand Utah as a state more concerned with party loyalty than working for the citizens.
A nine member panel can only mean one thing: one political party will have the majority vote. As it is extremely doubtful that the most powerful Republican in the house will choose more Democrats than Republicans on the investigatory committee tasked with determining if a high profile Republican should be impeached, we can only assume that the most “balanced” makeup of this committee possible would consist of five Republicans and four Democrats.
However, even this near-balance is not a guarantee under the resolution. There are several committees during the general legislative session that offer Democrats only a proportional number of seats at the table. If this were to be the Speaker’s preference on the investigatory committee, only two Democrats will be involved. While that type of lopsided representation is appropriate for some committees (the Democrats only hold 20 percent of the seats in the House after all), ethics committees are always made up of an even 50-50 split to prevent any impropriety.
This proposed imbalance is not only harmful to the Utah Republican Party, but fundamentally undermines the legitimacy of the committee’s outcome, regardless of what that outcome looks like.
If the partisan committee were to decide Swallow committed no wrongdoing, Utah citizens would view this as the Republican party looking out for its own, protecting a longtime party member rather than exposing the truth. Likewise, if a Republican controlled investigation committee found that Swallow did commit some act of wrongdoing, Utahns could view it as Republicans covering their own backsides with damage control by throwing Swallow under the bus, a move perhaps not warranted.
And woe to the Republican lawmakers who happen to sit on that committee under this system. They will either be vulnerable during reelection as Democrats hammer home a message of cronyism if Swallow is found free and clear, or face challenges from within their own party in the next election cycle—knowing they damaged the party by dragging the Republican brand through the impeachment process.
There is no situation where a partisan committee will be viewed as anything other than illegitimate in the eyes of the people of Utah—and the effect it will have on our citizenry will last for many years.
If Utah wants to be an example of how to handle such a delicate situation, we must have a balanced group of lawmakers investigating Swallow.
Utah Political Capitol would certainly be more comfortable with such an arrangement and would even accept that if the committee has a tie on the vote to bring findings to the full House, the tie-breaking vote should go to the Speaker herself.
Let Utah set the example on how to do this right. If the goal of the House of Representatives is, as Speaker Lockhart has said it is, to regain the public’s trust, then there can be no appearance of bias from either side of the political spectrum.
We were pleased, however, to see the investigation extends beyond Swallow’s bid to become AG, and even beyond when Swallow teamed up with former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. The decision to extend the investigation to the beginning of Swallow’s career shows wisdom, and will ensure no stone is left unturned as lawmakers begin the process of potentially removing an elected official.
Finally, we do wish to inform readers that the resolution can be amended prior to any decision being made. If you do not already follow Utah Political Capitol on Twitter, we recommend you do so, as events will be unfolding quickly Wednesday morning. We can be found at the twitter handle @utpolcapitol