Tag Archives: Salt Lake Tribune

Smart: ‘I know that you know what you did was wrong’ | The Salt Lake Tribune

Brian David Mitchell has been sentenced to life.

“I don’t have very much to say to you,” [Elizabeth Smart] said as Mitchell sat with his eyes closed, hands clasped and singing softly. “I know exactly what you did. I know that you know what you did was wrong. You did it with a full knowledge. I also want you to know that I have a wonderful life now, that no matter what you do, it will not affect me again. You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned, but in this life or next, you will have to be held responsible for those actions, and I hope you are ready for when that time comes.”

via Smart: ‘I know that you know what you did was wrong’ | The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Tweets aside, should Utah’s attorney general be appointed?

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General, is the first in Utah history to be elected to three terms.

Should the attorney general be appointed by the chief executive of the state? Or should states continue to elect their lead legal adviser and prosecutor?

Utah, along with forty-three other states, elects the state’s attorney general in a general election along side other statewide offices, such as governor, lieutenant governor, and so on. The attorney general’s job, according to the office’s site, is to “enforce the law, provide counsel to state agencies and public officials, to work with law enforcement and protect the interests of Utah, its people, environment and resources.”

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General

Utah’s current attorney general is Mark Shurtleff, first elected in 2000 and later reelected in 2004 and 2008, the first AG in Utah history to receive three terms. Each time, he has been reelected by large margins, walking away with about 69% of the vote in 2008.

Despite this level of popularity, though, Shurtleff has not won everyone’s friendship. Further, his willingness to take campaign contributions from groups that were in the midst of prosecution has raised questions about his objectivity.

One example of this was reported in the Salt Lake City Weekly story “Called Into Question.”  A call center that pushed questionable real estate products, Mentoring for America (or MOA) was investigated and cited between 2004 and 2007 for because it “promised unrealistic guarantees to customers, sold them programs they couldn’t use and otherwise conducted deceptive trade practices.” In 2008, it was under investigation, again.

Around the same time, Shurtleff received $20,000 in donations to his campaign. According to City Weekly:

 …on Jan. 16, 2008, almost a month after it received its most recent charges from the state, MOA contributed $20,000 to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s 2008 re-election campaign. Three months after the charges were dropped by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, Shurtleff would bank another $10,000 from the company, according to MOA’s PAC report.

In total, the Shurtleff campaign received $187,000 in donations from seven Utah call centers in 2008, six of which were under investigation by the Division of Consumer Protection. The litany of complaints against MOA, and the slap on the hand that it received, is heartbreaking.

When asked about the conflict of interest created by receiving donations from people and companies that are under investigation, Shurtleff was frank and honest: it’s complicated and it’s burdensome.

He said starting to draw lines among legal donors might create a need to do background checks on all donors. “I couldn’t take money from individuals without a background check,” he said.

Shurtleff also said that he’s never had a problem prosecuting donors.

“I have prosecuted and sued companies that have given me money,” he said. “Despite all the innuendo and rumors … there has never been and never will be a documented case of pay-to-play, tit-for-tat” favors for contributions.

The Idea: Appoint the Attorney General 

Regardless of Shurtleff’s intent, it has raised the question about whether the office should stay elective or whether it should be made appointive.  Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart of St. George recently floated the idea that–to allow the attorney general to avoid the appearance of impropriety due to campaign donations–the position should be appointed by the governor, similar to how the President appoints the U.S. Attorney General.

Not only would the state attorney general be free from the need to collect campaign donations, but would also work in closer cooperation with the Governor in setting priorities.

The feds do it and it seems to make sense,” Urquhart said in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

“I also think it’s much cleaner if the guy making prosecutorial decisions isn’t out soliciting money from people who could be impacted by those decisions,” Urquhart said.

The flaw in the idea, as Shurtleff quickly pointed out, is that the attorney general needs to be a check on the executive branch, as well. By limiting the attorney general’s independence–making it responsive to the governor and the legislature instead of voters–changes the nature of the prosecutor’s office to little more than corporate counsel to the Governor.

“If there’s any misdeed or malfeasance in the executive branch then I’m responsible to the people to take action,” Shurtleff said.

Public Policy? Or a Grudge?

If this were just a policy discussion, then Sen. Urquhart would have had the legislative office attorneys look at it, he’d propose a constitutional amendment (which is what the change would require), and the state legislature would have voted on it next year.

But it’s not just a policy discussion. Apparently Steve and Mark don’t get along very well. The attorney general went ad hominem  and attributed Sen. Urquhart’s suggestion to personal ambition, not public policy.

“We know he has an interest in this job,” Shurtleff said, adding Urquhart’s only hope would be through an appointment. “I think he can’t get elected statewide.”

Never one to miss an opportunity, Sen. Urquhart had some fun with Shurtleff’s snark.

When @hollyonthehill called his bluff, asking for a picture, Urquhart folded, making a jab at Shurtleff’s accidental tweet of 2009 announcing his intention to run for the US Senate.

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Jabs and accidental tweets aside, the question remains: should the attorney general be an independent elected official or should he, as in the federal system, be appointed?

Elected or Appointed, the Attorney General Should Be Impartial

Both options have merits that merit consideration and with the race to replace Mark Shurtleff kicking off this year, voters should closely examine the candidates for their willingness to maintain not only independence, but impartiality. Candidates for attorney general should be asked who their donors are and how they will be independent from influence by those donors.

While Shurtleff is correct to note that statewide races are expensive, it is also notable that he has won each race, including his first election, by margins more than 20 percent higher than his Democratic opponents. It’s hard to justify taking money from questionable donors when clearly there is not a need for it.

Further, the chief prosecutor should be above suspicion. Taking so much money from questionable donors should result in concerns by voters about the ability of the attorney general to exercise prosecutorial discretion in voters’ interests, not his own. Whether Shurtleff acts with impartiality or not becomes a moot point when so much money is accepted from so many parties that should be receiving the full inspection of the state’s chief prosecutor.

For more in the press on this issue, see also:

Does the public really care about HB477?

Does the public really care about HB477 ?

It’s a fair question. Because while the media is stirring a tempest, without public support, it will never get outside of the teapot.

When the bill changing Utah’s decades old GRAMA law was proposed in the closing days of the Utah Legislative session, the press went crazy. Bloggers went crazy (not all…some were just extensive). Radio hosts (cough–Doug Wright-cough) went crazy. We saw public protests, editorials written to and by the newspapers, and a referendum petition. (And yes, the law did fly through the Legislature at far higher than normal speed.)

The Utah Legislature listened, and the Governor listened. Governor Herbert reversed himself (he had signed HB477, and now he wants it repealed), several legislators admitted it was a bad choice and that they will support repeal, and an official working group was formed to reevaluate the law. Finally, tomorrow, at the call of Governor Herbert, the Legislature will meet to consider the law.

But does the public care that much?

I ran into a buddy of mine who was up on the Hill for the official Working Group, in a staffing capacity. When I asked him how it went, the most notable thing to him was the lack of the public’s presence. Sure, there were all sorts of media types, reporters, and camera crews, but the public was noticeably absent. Further, he noted, out of a state of over 2 million, the live stream only had, at max, 70 people logged on to watch and listen to the proceedings.

Does the public care?

I believe they do, even if they couldn’t all drop what they were doing to watch or drive up Capitol Hill. However, we, the public, could do a better job of making our voice heard.

Do you care?

You should. The transparency of government is important for our democracy (or republic, as it were).  The Working Group has identified 36 issues/questions about HB477 that need to be addressed in the law, posted them online here, and asked for your input. You can listen to the audio of the discussion at the first meeting here.

So do something. Speak up.

If you can find the time to care, put in your two-bits and prove it. Take a moment to say something, to comment on the Utah Senate or Utah House website, however small and short the comment may be.

You can find the 36 questions on the Utah Senate site and Vox Populi, the Utah House Republicans’ site.

APROPOS: For an interesting perspective on GRAMA, HB477, and, of all things, Wikileaks, check out “Killing Conspiracy: Wikileaks and GRAMA” on Phil Windley’s site.

Utah Legislature Watch: The HB477 Working Group is Up

With House Republicans calling for repeal and the Governor saying the same, the Utah Senate announced the working group on House Bill 477 this afternoon.

They will meet for the first time this Wednesday at 9 AM. A website to keep the public updated is planned for GRAMArevisited.com (or HB477.com). Check back there later for more information.

The group is diverse, but still lacking a few notables, such as, anyone from the Salt Lake Tribune. Lane Beattie will chair the effort (and good luck to him).

Here’s the list as posted on the Utah Senate site:

House of Representatives:

John Dougall – Utah State Representative
Holly Richardson – Utah State Representative
Brian King – Utah State Representative
Steve Handy – Utah State Representative

Senate:

Steve Urquhart – Utah State Senator
Curt Bramble – Utah State Senator
Stuart Adams – Utah State Senator
Patricia Jones – Utah State Senator

Governor’s Office:

John Pearce – General Counsel

Attorney General’s Office:

Laura Lockhart – Assistant Attorney General

League of Cities and Towns:

Mark Johnson – Ogden City

Traditional Media:

Randy Wright – Daily Herald
Linda Peterson – Valley Journals
Geoff Liesik – Uintah Basin Standard
Paul Edwards – Deseret Media Group
Jeff Hunt – Utah Media Coalition

New Media:

Jason Williams – KVNU-FTP host and blogger
Jesse Stay – Social media technologies consultant
LaVarr Webb – Utah Policy Daily

Public Members:

Michael Wilkins – Former Supreme Court Justice
Janet Frank – Utah Valley Regional Medical Center
Liu Vakapuna – SLCC Student Body President
David Kirkham – Tea Party Leader
Phil Windley – Web & Technology Pioneer
Lane Beattie – Salt Lake Chamber

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PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 19:  Jimmer Fredette #32 ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Also, Jimmer Fredette doesn’t appear on the working group list. That’s  mistake that I hope doesn’t come back to bite. As if he couldn’t handle the assignment from anywhere five feet behind the three-point line (also known as “Jimmer Territory”). Mark my words: he could teach the legislature how to Jimmer.

Utah Legislature Watch: See what happens when voters pay attention?

So It's A Crime Scene?

Image by makelessnoise via Flickr

House Bill 477 has caused quite the stir up on Capitol Hill, Utah. Let me explain…

No, there is too much. Let me sum up:

Last week, Rep. John Dougall presented House Bill 477 to limit GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act) requests from including text messages and instant messages. Within 72 hours, it had passed both House and Senate. Meanwhile, the press and public, not having ever heard of HB 477 before Dougall introduced it, went to work and, in a word, freaked. Commentators and academics started comparing Utah to third world countries like Mexico.

“Point after point, Utah’s record laws are going to be more backward than a Third World country’s,” David Cuillier, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Arizona, said Sunday. “That’s not hyperbole.”

Cuillier pointed out that the Mexican Freedom of Information Act specifies that electronic records be public, greatly restricts what the government can charge for records and places the burden on the government to show why something should not be disclosed.

The Utah bill, HB477, would prohibit the disclosure of text messages and instant messages, allow government agencies to charge fees that can include administrative and overhead costs and require requesters wanting records protected by the government to show with a preponderance of evidence the records should be released.

“In Mexico they favor disclosure, not secrecy,” Cuillier said. “In Utah it would be the other way around.”

Then, just as suddenly as the bill appeared on the docket, legislators started back tracking. First this morning was Sen. Dan Liljenquist, a likely candidate for the US Senate in 2012:

Right behind him was another federal office hopeful, Rep. Carl Wimmer:

And then Holly Richardson, the House’s newest Representative who had gone to bat for the bill on her blog before taking a second look at the issue:

That wasn’t the end of it. Jesse Fruhwirth of the City Weekly reported that Democrats who had supported it were having buyers remorse, as well:

He also compiled a list of legislators who were backtracking that included Sen. John Valentine (a likely candidate for Utah’s Attorney General post) .

Currently, the bill is not dead, but with a threat of a veto hanging over it (a visit to the Governor’s Office will do that), not to mention a full scale public backlash that is as immediate as rallies, phone calls, emails, and 140 characters of Twitter can provide.

Herbert’s office issued a statement last week saying only that “this is a highly charged issue with strong emotions on both sides. He will carefully consider this issue and weigh all options.” Also, Herbert has said he was not involved in drafting the bill.” His office did not immediately comment on developments on Monday.

Meanwhile, the bill is currently in “recall,” meaning it could still be passed. Sen. Waddups, President of the Senate, and Speaker Lockhart have both indicated that they have no interest in angering constituents or fighting a veto from the Governor.

I can’t help but note that the first two people to respond were two politicians with big ambitions for high federal office. Those that followed shortly there after had similar ambitions, if for other elective offices. That’s the power of voters showing up, not just on election day, but when it matters.

Meanwhile, intrepid reporter Billy Hesterman wonders about how popular Angry Birds is up at the Utah legislature.

I can’t wait to see that GRAMA request roll through the House.

APROPOS: Kudos to former candidate Jeremy Votaw for getting love from Paul Rolly in the Trib for Votaw’s online petition to get HB477 vetoed.

(h/t to the City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, and, of course, all of #utpol on Twitter)