This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Legislature and governor are sparring once again over the race to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The Legislature claims the governor called a special election before the office was technically vacant and usurped legislative power by creating the special election calendar.
The Legislature also complains that the governor is improperly blocking a legal opinion prepared by the attorney general's office that analyzes the legality of the special election. Legislative attorneys have said the election is invalid; election office attorneys have said that it isn't.
In this current squabble, no one is blameless.
First, none of this would be at issue if Chaffetz hadn't decided to resign early. House terms are only two years. Chaffetz should have fulfilled his obligation.
We agreed with Gov. Gary Herbert's decision to call the special election and set the abbreviated timeline. While the office isn't technically vacant yet, it will be vacant on June 30 and those who have qualified for the ballot will be on the ballot.
A lawsuit seeking to invalidate the election would be a fool's errand. Utah courts proved last year they have little patience for interrupting elections, and little appetite for overturning the state election office. And again, on June 30, the issue is moot.
But the governor should not have blocked the A.G. opinion. Hiding behind the threat of litigation is a poor excuse for secret governing. If if there is a suit, it's not as if the state is going to pop out some secret strategy. Let the people in on this discussion.
The governor has been sued by the new United Utah Party, who failed to submit signatures to certify the party in time for the election office to actually verify those signatures before the candidate deadline passed. But that suit doesn't bear on the question of whether the entire election is legitimate or not. United Utah doesn't care if the election goes forward as currently planned as long as its candidate is on the ballot.
Perhaps the attorney general should have taken a stronger stand and delivered the requested opinion to legislative leadership, knowing that threats of ethical violation were weak and unfounded. If the office really has clients in conflict, it should recuse itself completely and not choose one side over the other. But as the Legislature insists it is not suing the governor, such conflict is overblown.
The Legislature is responsible for leaving election law incomplete in the first place. It chose to leave the law ambiguous as to time, place and manner of special elections. It can't complain now that the elections office is just trying to get things done.