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Knocking on doors in the Orem neighborhoods he again wants to represent in the Utah Legislature, former Rep. Brad Daw says the question he is asked most often is how his opponent, Dana Layton, got dragged into the scandal involving former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
Layton, who beat Daw soundly in a Republican primary two years ago, scoffs at Daw's characterization and says he's the one playing up her bit part in the Swallow brouhaha, which she acknowledges is hanging over her campaign as voters prepare to go to the polls Tuesday.
"It's the thing he talks about the most. When I'm out there knocking on doors it hardly ever comes up," Layton said. "He's making it an issue more than it actually is an issue."
Layton, a freshman Republican seeking a second term, is taking aim at Daw's record on privacy issues, accusing the former four-term legislator of expanding unchecked police powers and infringing on voters' Fourth Amendment rights.
The hard-fought battle between the two is the most talked-about matchup among a handful of primary contests that will be decided across the state Tuesday. The winner will face Democrat Archie Williams, who will be a heavy underdog in the traditionally Republican stronghold.
In 2012, Daw bore the brunt of a barrage of attacks, with thousands of dollars worth of negative direct mail pieces and robocalls peppering voters, accusing the incumbent of supporting Obamacare, being soft on immigration and opposing anti-bullying bills.
Powers-Swallow connection • The ads were funded by the Proper Role of Government Defense Fund, a committee created by Jason Powers, who was Swallow's top campaign aide. They were funded almost exclusively by payday lenders who poured thousand of dollars worth of "dark money" so-called because it doesn't have to be disclosed into crushing Daw for sponsoring legislation to regulate the lending industry.
Powers' website boasted that, before the attacks, Daw had a 4-to-1 favorable rating and a 25-point lead over Layton. "These mailers were instrumental in turning the tide in just over a month and defeating Brad Daw by nearly 10 percentage points," the site boasted.
In addition, Powers' organization bought yard signs for Layton's campaign.
But Layton said that, at the time, she had no idea where the money was coming from.
"Proper Role of Government sounded like a good conservative cause," she said, adding that it is ironic that she is still dealing with fallout from the 2012 campaign, even though most of the lobbyist money had gone to Daw's side.
"I'm walking neighborhoods every day and I feel like I'm getting traction," Layton said. "But I keep having to confront half-truths and mistruths that Brad is spreading."
Daw said the "smear campaign" by the payday lenders is one of the first things he talks to voters about.
"That doesn't sit well with people," he said. "Payday lenders are not well-liked. It makes them understand why they were getting a lot of bad information two years ago."
"To me that's the lead story. To me what happened two years ago in the state is unprecedented," he said.
The race led to efforts to tighten financial disclosures and require organizations to report who contributes to various campaign accounts.
"There's sort of some irony in the fact that some people are angry because they feel like I benefitted from this nasty smear campaign that Jason Powers did," Layton said. "I don't know how to quantify how much I benefitted, but it seems to me that over the course of the last two years it's been more of a liability than a help."
Privacy invasion • Layton, last week, sent voters a mailer targeting Daw's record on privacy issues, in particular for sponsoring a bill authorizing law enforcement to get "administrative subpoenas," allowing investigators to get a suspect's bank information and Internet and cellphone account information without getting a warrant form a judge.
Daw sponsored the bill, as Layton points out, at the request of then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
The attorney general's office argued the tool was needed when law enforcement didn't have time to get a judge to sign a warrant. But a review by The Tribune found that, on average, 37 days passed between an alleged crime and the issuance of the administrative subpoena. Efforts were made last session to clamp down on the subpoenas and new Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office would no longer use them except in the most extreme circumstances.
"I think several of the bills [Daw] sponsored, I see as having trends of big-government solutions," Layton said. "We'll collect information on citizens and that's how we'll solve the problem and, in the case of the warrantless subpoenas, to me it's a different approach to problem solving."
Daw said before his bill, state investigators just went to federal authorities to get a warrantless subpoena, and that would have continued had he not sponsored the legislation.
"I think it was a step in the right direction," he said. "The nice thing about it is now we've gone to a court order, but we'd never got there at all had we not gone to the administrative subpoenas."
Cathy Young, a precinct chairwoman in the Orem district, is undecided on whom she's going to support, but said some neighbors have told her that Daw's focus on reliving the 2012 race is wearing thin.
"A lot of people in my neighborhood feel like he's kind of playing the victim," Young said. "A neighbor said that, 'Brad Daw came to my door and gave me this sad story about how he got attacked.' And [the neighbor] goes, 'I don't want to hear about that. I want to hear about what he's going to do.'"
Daw says, if he goes back to the Legislature, he will be a candidate voters can talk to. He plans to stay focused on reforming payday lending and wants to scrutinize the state's involvement in the Common Core education curriculum.
Layton said her focus has been in beating back bad legislation, which she will continue to do. She said it's also noteworthy that, if she wins, she would be one of the last women in the 75-member House. Only six other women currently serving are seeking re-election and five of them are Democrats.
"Nobody likes to talk about this, but I am a woman and he is a man and there are only four Republican women in the caucus and two aren't coming back," she said. "The people I've talked to have no idea that women are so poorly represented in the Legislature."
Southern Utah • A pair of other key primaries revolve around a voter initiative led by Count My Vote aimed at changing Utah's system for nominating candidates.
Sen. Evan Vickers and Rep. John Westwood, both R-Cedar City, supported compromise legislation to keep the system of caucuses for nominating candidates in place, but making changes to who may participate in primaries and providing a method for candidates to get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures from voters.
The changes were unpopular with the most die-hard Republicans, who bitterly fought any changes to the system. Now both Vickers and Westwood are facing tea party opponents former Sen. Casey Anderson challenging Vickers and Iron County Republican chairman Blake Cozzens against Westwood who are hammering them for supporting the compromise.
For Vickers and Anderson, it is a rematch of a 2012 race. Anderson had been chosen by Republican delegates to replace the late Sen. Dennis Stowell and served out the rest of Stowell's term. But Vickers beat Anderson in the 2012 election.
Vickers has received financial support from Gov. Gary Herbert and several senators, who usually remain neutral in Republican primary fights.
Other legislative primary contests on Tuesday
Senate District 2 - Salt Lake City
GOP: Jacquie Nielsen vs. George Chapman
Winner faces Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis
Senate District 28 - Southern Utah
GOP: Former Sen. Casey Anderson vs. Sen. Evan Vickers
Winner is unopposed
House District 7 - Weber County
GOP: Rep. Justin Fawson vs. Dan Deuel
Winner faces Democrat Camille Neider and Libertarian Roger Condie
House District 19 - Davis County
GOP: Raymond Ward vs. Chet Loftis
Winner faces Democrat Daniel Donahue and Independent American candidate Eli Cawley
House District 38 - Kearns
Dems: Elias McGraw vs. Chrystal Butterfield
Winner faces Republican Rep. Eric Hutchings
House District 72 - Cedar City
GOP: Rep. John Westwood vs. Blake Cozzens
Winner faces Libertarian candidate Barry Short