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Auditor paid price for irking legislators

Published June 30, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, imagine the devastation when she is the speaker of the Utah House.

Longtime State Auditor Auston Johnson felt the wrath when he was swamped by state Rep. John Dougall in the Republican Primary on Tuesday, effectively ending Johnson's 17-year tenure as state auditor.

It is rare that a Republican incumbent in a low-profile office like auditor even gets a serious challenge from another Republican. But this year was different, and Johnson might have seen it coming.

While Dougall was a respected legislator among his conservative colleagues in the Legislature, the overwhelming support he received from them might have been more of an anti-Johnson tidal wave than a pro-Dougall march.

Dougall received nearly $16,000 in campaign contributions from legislators or PACs controlled by legislators. That was nearly a third of the cash that Dougall's campaign amassed, and it was almost as much as Johnson's campaign total.

As a result of the legislators' generosity toward their colleague, Dougall had close to three times the money as Johnson. About $7,000 contributed to Dougall's campaign came from PACs controlled by House Speaker Becky Lockhart — the Speaker's Victory Fund and the Utah House Republican Election Committee.

Dougall also received a $1,000 from former Senate President John Valentine, and $5,000 from former House Speaker Greg Curtis.

Lockhart, R-Provo, also stood on stage at the state GOP convention in support of Dougall. She was joined by Senate President Michael Waddoups and other prominent Republican lawmakers.

So why the scorn directed at the incumbent auditor, who had been the top dog in the office for so long?

He got too uppity.

The seeds of Johnson's departure were planted several years ago when he released an audit slamming the Utah College of Applied Technology and its president, Rob Brems, who was forced to resign after the audit pointed out Brems had taken a huge compensation package and set up a tax-exempt non-profit that benefited his family.

The audit was spawned by an investigation into one of UCAT's Mountainland campus, which had used state resources to build a parade float for the Utah County Republican Party.

Several Utah County legislators and party officers were investigated, including Valentine, R-Orem, and Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, a close political ally of Lockhart's.

The legislators were cleared of any wrongdoing, but they subsequently took actions that showed they backed Brems and were not happy about his ouster.

The Legislature demonstrated its displeasure with Johnson by passing a bill that gave every statewide elected official a raise except him. They then passed a bill that took UCAT out from under the auspices of the State Board of Regents, which had forced Brems out, and put it under an independent board headed by a longtime lobbyist who was tight with legislative leaders.

The new board then rehired Brems, who quickly eliminated the job of an internal auditor blamed for starting the investigation of UCAT in the first place.

Johnson may have thought enough time had passed since the investigation and audit of administrators, who clearly enjoyed inner-circle status with influential lawmakers, that he would be forgiven for simply doing his job.

But Republicans are symbolized by the elephant. And elephants never forget. —






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