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Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes appointed last December to replace John Swallow, who was driven from office amid scandal cruised to a convincing victory Tuesday over Democratic challenger Charles Stormont.
Elected now to serve the final two years of Swallow's term, Reyes becomes the first ethnic minority to win a statewide election in Utah. His father is from the Philippines. He also has Hispanic, Japanese and Polynesian ancestry.
Reyes took a sizable lead early ending up with 309,913 votes to his opponent's 136,094 or 63 percent to 28 percent and Stormont called Reyes to concede.
"I enjoyed being an appointed attorney general, but I'll love being the elected attorney general." Reyes told his supporters. "We've got a lot of work to do in the attorney general's office and we'll need your support."
Stormont, who is an assistant attorney general on leave during the campaign, congratulated his boss on the victory.
"I did tell him I really look forward to going back to work in the A.G.'s office," said Stormont, promising that he would "continue to talk about real reform" in the office.
Reyes replaced Swallow, who stepped down amid a sweeping political scandal that resulted in multiple felony charges against him and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.
Cleaning up after the scandal and restoring public trust in the office became central themes of the campaign.
Reyes overhauled the top leadership team, bringing in attorneys from his former law firm to take several top slots. He created an internal ethics office and established a public corruption unit to look at misdeeds by elected officials and government workers.
Stormont said Reyes didn't go far enough. He challenged Reyes for continuing to take the type of big-dollar contributions that Swallow and Shurtleff had received. He called for the creation of a statewide ethics office that could provide guidance to county and local governments and investigate complaints of wrongdoing. Perhaps most notably, Stormont criticized Reyes for spending taxpayer dollars defending Utah's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which the Democrat said at the time was destined to be struck down.
Reyes argued that he is obligated to defend the laws of the state, regardless of his personal feelings about the law or the chances of success in court, where Stormont wanted to "pick and choose" which laws he defended.
"I say you can't cut and run," Reyes said during the only debate between the two candidates. "You can't thwart the democratic process because you're smarter than the Supreme Court."
Reyes, who lost to Swallow in a 2012 GOP primary, outspent Stormont by a wide margin, pouring $275,000 into the race, more than twice the $129,000 the Democrat put into the contest.
Stormont swore off big contributions from multilevel marketers, payday lenders, alarm companies and online business marketing firms, seeking to avoid an appearance of the types of conflict that plagued Swallow and Shurtleff when they took money from those industries that frequently had matters before the attorney general's office.
Reyes took $150,000 from the Republican Attorneys General Association, a clearinghouse for contributions to top state prosecutors across the country. He received $20,000 contributions from Merit Medical, Washakie Renewable Energy, and Chantal Burnison, the CEO of Chantal Pharmaceutical, which makes beauty supplements.
Thomas Burr and Tom Harvey contributed to this story.
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