SALT LAKE CITY -- A pair of government watchdog groups hand-delivered a letter to the governor's office on Tuesday, asking for the government to appoint an attorney general who is scandal free and has no political ambitions.
The progressive think tank Alliance for a Better Utah and the group Utahns for Ethical Government urged Gov. Gary Herbert to demand more from the Utah Republican Party nominees to replace former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
"We think the governor has a real opportunity to act in a way that's above reproach," said Dixie Huefner with Utahns for Ethical Government. "That will really ensure the public that, until the next election, we will have a true, non-partisan professional who's going to really bring that office into higher repute than it currently has."
Swallow resigned maintaining his innocence in the face of accusations of wrongdoing, but facing mounting investigations. Under Utah law, if a member of an executive branch resigns mid-term, the political party's central committee sends three names to the governor to appoint a replacement.
There are eight candidates who are seeking the Republican party's nomination. They are:
- Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bret Rawson, whose firm also represents Swallow accuser Marc Sessions Jensen.
- Sean Reyes, who lost to Swallow in the GOP primary election.
- Former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brent Ward, who was on the team prosecuting indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, who accused Swallow of influence peddling.
- Former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins
- Interim Utah Attorney General Brian Tarbet, who was appointed by Swallow to be his chief deputy.
- Former Iron County Attorney Scott Burns.
- Michelle Mumford, who is the associate dean of the BYU law school.
- Robert Smith, who runs the International Center for Law and Religious Studies at BYU.
"There are several who have actual involvement in and around the scandals associated with the former attorney general. That's our concern," said Maryann Martindale, the director of Alliance for a Better Utah.
The groups insist that Swallow's replacement should not be someone who will run for the office in the special election set for November 2014.
"To be out soliciting for funds invites the same kind of partisan fundraising that has been such a problem for that office in the past," said David Irvine, the attorney for both groups.
Republican Party chairman James Evans told FOX 13 News they will press forward, doing what they have to under state law.
"We have 182 members of the central committee who are vetting the candidates, looking at their backgrounds, their credentials and making sure that the three names we submit are three who are qualified and can do a good job in that office," he said.
The GOP has scheduled a meeting of the party's central committee for Saturday. In rounds of speeches and voting, committee members will choose the three names to advance to the governor. Evans said the committee members will make sure that whomever is selected will be ready to become the next attorney general.
"The governor, I think, will have quite a bit of deliberation as he makes his decision," he said.