In selecting a new Utah attorney general to replace the retiring Mark Shurtleff, voters have a very clear choice.
Dee Smith, the Democrat, is an experienced prosecutor and trial attorney who can be expected to stand with law enforcement officers around the state and to offer the Legislature and other state offices the clear-headed legal advice they need, rather than more of the foolish enabling they want to hear.
John Swallow, the Republican, is a partisan operator whose background hints far too strongly of a loyalty to the very industries that any state's attorney general ought to be vigorously investigating, as well as an unfortunate tendency to eagerly participate in the worst examples of Utah political grandstanding.
Swallow, named as a top assistant to Shurtleff three years ago, is an attorney.
But his energy over the past dozen years has been focused not so much on defending the interests of average citizens, crime victims and the state of Utah as it has on being an apologist for such unsavory clients as the pay-day loan industry, raising scads of campaign cash for himself and others and standing up for such legally, and ethically, marginal ideas as suing the federal government for control of 30 million acres of land that belong to the American people.
Smith, on the other hand, sees the Utah land grab attempt for what it is: Political posturing that is an almost certain loser in court and an unnecessary drain on state resources that could be used for real needs, from education to transportation.
Smith's experience as Weber County attorney, supervising a staff of 16 lawyers who work on both criminal and civil matters, is ideal training for the real priorities of the attorney general's office. It gives him an instant grasp of what law enforcement agencies around the state are up against on a daily basis.
As attorney general, Smith also would continue to mix his devotion to enforcing the law with his understanding that education and prevention are often better for everyone than prosecution and incarceration.
He has worked to develop drug courts, mental health courts and DUI courts that can offer a last strand of hope before people are lost to the clutches of addiction, after which, as he says, "It's really difficult to get those people back."
It also would be nice if the people of Utah could have their attorney general's office back, back from its unhappy association with businesses that other agencies are busy investigating and back into the ranks of public agencies that serve the people of Utah.