There are many words one could use to describe state Sen. Todd Weiler's idea for addressing the scandal swirling around Attorney General John Swallow. Two such words are "counterintuitive" and "déjà vu."
Weiler's proposal to make the state attorney general an appointed rather than an elected office closely resembles others cooked up on Capitol Hill that purport to fix a flaw in Utah's system of government where none in fact exists. Invariably, the "solution" is to strip power from the voters, as when the Legislature made it nigh impossible to get a citizen initiative placed on a statewide ballot.
Weiler went before the Legislature's government operations committee last week to propose changing the Utah Constitution to make the attorney general an appointee of the Legislature or the governor. For Weiler, "The question here is, do we want the best lawyer or the best politician as the state's chief law enforcement officer?" The Woods Cross Republican acknowledged that "it's a big deal to take this away from the people" a true statement if ever there was one but that the change would free the office from election politics.
Only seven states would agree with Weiler, and the District of Columbia is preparing to join them.
Who, in our single-party state, actually believes that an appointed A.G. would be Utah's best lawyer, or free of partisan politics, or any less likely than a bad apple like Swallow to betray the oath of office? Remember, Swallow was nobody's idea of a top Utah attorney, yet was enthusiastically endorsed by the Republican Party over a respected prosecutor, Weber County Attorney Dee Smith. If voters made a mistake in electing Swallow, what about all those elected officials who knew Swallow was primarily a party operative and shill for the payday-loan industry and sang his praises anyway?
Would the Legislature have been any less likely to have appointed Swallow than voters were to elect him? Is it not counterintuitive to argue that an attorney general appointed by the governor or Legislature would be free of political influence and accountable to none but the people who didn't elect him/her?
Weiler should think again. Fixing Utah's Constitution by making it less democratic is, or should be, a non sequitur.