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While the candidates for the attorney general’s office may share some similarities, the two differed in experience and on many answers to the questions from Rotary members at the club’s debate Tuesday afternoon.
Democrat Dee Smith said the one thing he would change as attorney general is to stop pursuing message lawsuits, such as BCS, federal land and the Affordable Care Act, that have no chance of winning and waste taxpayer money. “I hate the BCS as much as anybody, but we’re not going to waste time and resources on those type of lawsuits and I hope to change that approach,” he said.
Republican John Swallow said it’s important for Utah to maintain leadership on individual and state’s rights issues, and he would never file unless there was a chance for winning. He said his main role as AG is to be the state’s law firm and follow policies set by the state legislature.
The candidates took questions from Rotary Club members that covered a wide variety of topics. The two issues they both agreed on were support of lawful gun ownership and carrying, even on college campuses, and hoping to change the law that allowed a child sex offender to run for the school board in the Granite School District.
Both men see their experience as more beneficial to the office. Swallow said his experience as a state legislator, corporate general counsel, chief deputy attorney general and commercial litigator have given him a broad base of experience on which to draw. He said having worked in the attorney general’s office for three years now, he decided to run realizing the AG is much more than a prosecutor.
Smith said his experience is the type of experience needed as attorney general. As Weber County Attorney, he oversees civil and criminal attorneys while working within a budget. He has experience in private practice and as an appellate attorney, and said those qualifications fit well with the duties of attorney general.
Following a question about payday lenders, Smith said he thinks they are under regulated, predatory and hold too much influence. Swallow disagreed saying he supports residents securing credit in whatever way they feel is best for their situation, including payday lenders.
One question asked how Swallow would address conflicts of interest given the large amount of money his campaign has raised. He said he understands those concerns, but it took about $900,000 to get through the convention and primary and the money will not influence his decisions.
“I will run my office with complete integrity,” he said. “If someone has a conflict and it’s a conflict I can’t get through, then I’ll make sure someone else is making the decision so there’s no appearance of conflict.”
Smith said he finds large donations while running for attorney general problematic because he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone. However, he said that is not direct comment on or reflection of how Swallow’s campaign has been run.
When asked about the state’s expressed desire to take control of federal lands, Smith said he is opposed to it because it’s money going to a lawsuit that can’t be won.
“Those are issues that need to be worked with and alleviated rather than taking on this lawsuit that we’re not going to win, we’re just going to waste a lot of money on,” he said. He added that the state and its residents should embrace public lands instead of turning the state into a network of no trespassing signs.
Swallow said he would not waste time and money on a lawsuit they can’t win and aren’t ready to get into, which is why the federal lands lawsuit has not been filed yet. He also said the state may be able to partner with other states to reduce the cost, like Utah did with the Affordable Healthcare Act suit. Utah’s leadership on preserving state rights is important, he added.
The final question was about the factual innocence law, which Swallow said he supports, but was misused in Debra Brown’s case.
Smith said he also supports it, but believes in the judge who heard the facts of the case and trusts the system’s checks and balances to provide justice. “Our job isn’t to get convictions, it’s to see that justice is done.”