Republicans tap Reyes, Smith, and Tarbet for AG spot

First round ballot for Republicans vying for AG spot. Photo courtesy of Alliance for a Better Utah

Utah Republicans met Saturday morning to decide on the top three candidates they would like as Utah’s next Attorney General. Out of those three names, Governor Gary Herbert will name the candidate he wishes to fill the office after his choice has been confirmed by the state Senate.

In all, seven candidates took the stage at the Sandy campus of Salt Lake Community College in an attempt to win over the central committee members from across the state who were able to brave the cold, and those who were able to attend received a wide range of speeches from those vying to become Utah’s next top cop.

Sean Reyes was the first candidate to take the podium. Reyes, who ran against the now former Attorney General, John Swallow, in an intra-party challenge last year, emphasized that trust and respect will be necessary to restore faith in the office. To this end, Reyes did not want to be seen as simply a placeholder for the job, signaling instead that he is interested in making long-term change to the AG’s office. “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win their trust and respect,” said Reyes, noting that many in the AG’s office already know Reyes and respect the work that he does. To that end, if chosen, Reyes would clean house by calling for an audit of the office and force the chief deputies within the office to resign and reapply for their positions.

Brett Rawson, who actually announced his intentions to run for Attorney General the day prior to Swallow stepping down, said that the office of the Attorney General was tarnished and will work to “restore integrity and public trust” in the office. Citing the founding fathers, Rawson said that he will honor the original intent of the law and invoked language that suggested that he would fight against evil. Rawson, who has recently been in the spotlight for advocating for the Fraternal Order of Police in the investigation of the shooting of West Valley City resident Danielle Willard, received applause when he said that he has fought corruption from the outside – implicating Democratic District Attorney Sim Gill.

Former Utah Supreme Court Justice, Michael Wilkins, was more subdued in his address. During his speech to the committee, Wilkins heavily emphasized his years of experience in the field of law. Aside from his judicial service, Wilkins focused on his time heading a state-wide private law firm that primarily dealt with civil lawsuits. Wilkins made it clear to the audience that he was not interested in a long term position, but would work to return the office to a “place of honor and dignity.”

Robert Smith packed the dais with wife and family nearby. Vowing, like many other candidates, to restore respect to the office, Smith also added that he “love[s] this great state of Utah, [and] I love the rule of law.” In his speech he also noted that the office is “vitally important” to defend freedoms and liberties.

The current interim Attorney General, Brian Tarbet, acknowledged that the office has lost trust in the eyes of the public – trust that he hopes to restore. Tarbet noted that he brings “duty, honor, service to God, family and country” to the position, noting that the “Constitution is my bedrock.” Tarbet was also quick to distance himself from former AG’s Swallow and Shurtleff, noting that “problems existed long before I joined the office.” Tarbet closed by noting that he does not intend to run for the office in 2014, simply that he intends to “fix what is wrong and leave [the office] better.”

Current secretary of the Utah GOP, Michelle Mumford, gave a speech heavy on emphasizing Republican principals and came out swinging against the actions of Shurtleff and Swallow, noting that the office is no place for burner phones and fixers. In her speech she noted her experience working in the tenth circuit court and bucking the good ol’ boys club. If chosen, she intends to work on restoring accountability and trust to the office.

The final candidate, Scott Burns, pointed out that he “didn’t bring signs, hats, buttons, or food” to the committee meeting, only his resume and record. Burns, who is a former Iron County attorney and White House staffer, reminded the crowd that he has tried over 100 jury trials and that he is often the first one in and the last one out of the office. He also called for an entire review of the AG’s office, and, in a nod to some in the audience, supports the current caucus system in the state.

In all 154 of the 180 Central Committee members were in attendance. After four rounds of balloting, the body decided to send Reyes ,Smith, and Tarbet’s names to the Governor.

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