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Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on Thursday stood behind John Swallow the man he is endorsing to take his place knowing if Swallow wins election, Utah's run as a national model of state-based comprehensive immigration reform is likely coming to an end.
"He's not going to drive the issue like I did," Shurtleff said. "I recognize that. But I'm disappointed with Mitt Romney and the stances he's taken on immigration, too. But it doesn't mean I don't support him. I can overlook that one issue."
Swallow is Shurtleff's chief deputy and has known him for more than a decade, dating back to when Swallow was in the state Legislature. And at Swallow's official campaign announcement Thursday, the Republican hopeful made clear he wouldn't use the office as a platform the way Shurtleff has.
Shurtleff was one of the first signers of The Utah Compact, which seeks to be a template for immigration reform centered on federal solutions, compassion and economic contributions of immigrants. He also was among its biggest boosters around the country.
Swallow takes a different approach.
"I haven't signed The Utah Compact and I don't intend to sign it," Swallow said. He offered that he supports many of its principles, but wouldn't go into detail about his views.
Asked about why he didn't sign the Compact, Swallow said he didn't know.
Swallow's shyness on the issue drew criticism from Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.
"When a candidate for attorney general steps back from the Chamber of Commerce, steps back from the LDS Church and steps back from so many right-minded groups that came up with a compromise and a fair way to look at immigration, it's a sad day," Dabakis said. "If Swallow is elected attorney general, we can expect to see the kind of negative effects … that exist in Arizona."
The race for attorney general on the Republican side already includes Sean Reyes, who recently offered free legal services to help Shurtleff's office defend Utah's enforcement-only immigration law sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem.
Reyes also didn't sign The Utah Compact and wouldn't follow in Shurtleff's footsteps.
Swallow said his three priorities in office would be families, lands and freedoms with a heavy emphasis on his zeal to help fight President Barack Obama's mandated health care law that will be battled in the U.S. Supreme Court this spring. He also stressed his desire to advance Utah's effort to wrest control of land controlled by the federal government.
"Our land belongs to our people, not to the bureaucrats and extreme environmentalists who want to lock it away for the privileged few," Swallow said.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also endorsed Swallow at the announcement and said Swallow has a long track record of being "a bona-fide conservative" even when it departs from the party line.
Lee said Swallow was an early opponent of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law and said the candidate understood about the overreaching of the federal government. He said Swallow had a strong, internal ethic.
"Whenever you hire a lawyer, you want to find somebody smart and loyal," Lee said. "Somebody who will never compromise when it comes to ethics."