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Swallow and the Legislature

Published May 17, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's uncomfortable. It's awkward. But it is time for the Utah Legislature to do its duty and begin its own serious investigation into the mess currently unfolding in the executive offices of our state government. It is a critical part of our system of checks and balances, and after repeated scandals and allegations linking enormous contributions to special treatment from the executive branch, it's time for the people of Utah to get the facts.

To avoid the discomfort of looking into the matter, particularly the case of Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, the Legislature has "off-shored" discovering what is happening in our Utah government to the feds, forgoing a state-level, Legislature-driven investigation.

We see it in Washington all the time, Congress calling the executive branch before the appropriate committee and asking probing, serious questions. Such dialogue is imperative to hold our elected and appointed leaders accountable, and it keeps their actions public. Our Legislature has the power to do that kind of serious investigation here in Utah.

The U.S. Attorney for Utah has been investigating Swallow and, apparently, other Utah officials for months, maybe even years. That probe was recently turned over to the federal Department of Justice Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C. But the problem is, a federal investigation is limited to potential violations of federal laws — and that's it. At its conclusion, the people of Utah will only know what federal laws may have been violated.

Indictment or not, one thing is for sure: Federal investigators will not open their files and their processes to the people of Utah. We will not hear or be able to judge the allegations from their accusers. We will not learn of any ethical violations or, importantly, how we need to reform Utah's ethics and campaign finance laws. And we will never know what state laws were violated, or whether the actions of some in the executive branch met the people of Utah's high expectations for integrity.

Our highest state officials and those making serious allegations should have the opportunity to be heard and either convicted or have their name cleared in full public view.

Whatever the federal outcome, there are surely lessons to be learned. For the good of our state, we need our Legislature to stand up and pursue answers, not look for excuses to sweep awkward issues under the rug. The Republican leadership, which controls 80 percent of the Legislature, has a responsibility to immediately begin a thorough, open, and bipartisan committee investigation to see what happened and why.

There is sometimes discomfort in asking tough questions, but the Legislature can no longer put off its responsibility. A legislative committee must be appointed to subpoena witnesses and take open testimony and follow wherever the facts may lead. The "good old boy" network must not be allowed to spin this away without real questions being asked and answered.

The credibility of the entire state government is at stake, and hiding from an open discussion is simply no longer a viable option.

Jim Dabakis is a member of the Utah Senate, representing District 2, and chair of the Utah Democratic Party.






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