BY TOM BUSSELBERG
WOODS CROSS – The office of Utah Attorney General should be an appointed one, rather than left to a vote of the people.
That’s the belief of Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.
He began drafting a legislative bill last spring. But with the departure of embattled Attorney General John Swallow Monday night, his proposal is gaining more relevance, at least as a topic of discussion.
“I presented this to the Government Operations Interim Committee in May, we had quite a bit of discussion then,” Weiler said.
“This is not something I’m doing in the wake of the recent House investigation or findings of the governor or of Swallow’s resignation,” he emphasized.
Weiler, an attorney, bases the bill on the U.S. Constitution’s providing the federal government the ability to choose its own attorney general, via the president.
“There are seven other states that do not elect their attorney general,” he said.
“In light of not only what’s been happening recently, but what’s been happening over the last six years or more, I think it’s worthy of discussion for Utah to take a step back and ask whether requiring the state’s chief prosecutor to run around with his hat in his hand and ask people for donations Р whether that makes sense,” Weiler said.
There is precedence for appointments to various positions, he said.
For example, judges were elected until the 1970s. That includes district judges such as those who sit in Farmington.
“We stopped doing that (elections) for many of the same reasons,” Weiler said.
“It wasn’t the Utah way. In Texas, they still elect judges. Judges accept donations from lawyers. It’s unsavory,” he said.
In addition to that potential conflict, people need to remember that the attorney general works for the governor Р not for the people at large.
“Right now we have the governor who doesn’t have a say in who his attorney general is,” he said.
In recent times, there has been contention between the governor and attorney general: Gov. Mike Leavitt, was a Republican. His attorney general, for a time, was Jan Graham, a Democrat.
Leavitt “grew the state government” by creating the office of governor’s general counsel.
“I guess that’s fine, if you want the taxpayers to pay for someone else” to represent the governor’s interests, Weiler said.
However, the attorney general is a part of the executive branch, just as the director of the department of health or other positions are.
“My bill is not done being drafted,” following a lot of research, Weiler said.
The biggest concern being raised is that the attorney general would be “beholden to the governor,” he said. “I think I’ve got more faith in the system than that. We can take some steps to alleviate those concerns.”
“Obviously there are pros and cons,” said Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “However, as we’ve seen some of the cons, it tends to make you wonder if that’s a good idea to have someone appointed by the governor who is independent, at least independent more distantly.
“It can be problematic for the attorney general to have to be raising money for a campaign,” he said.
Meanwhile, the State Republican Central Committee will be nominating three people to fill Swallow’s slot until the November 2014 election.