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SANDY — It took most of Saturday, but members of the Utah Republican Party's Central Committee selected three names to forward to Gov. Gary Herbert as possible replacements for former Attorney General John Swallow. The candidates are Sean Reyes, Robert Smith and Brian Tarbet.
It took several rounds of voting to reach the conclusion, but party members and the governor, who watched the process, said they're satisfied with the result.
"The easiest thing to do would be to pick a name out of a hat, blindfolded," Gov. Herbert joked. "But that's not the process I'm going to use."
"The good news for the state of Utah is you have three very well-qualified, good people, with excellent backgrounds and lots of integrity," the governor said.
The top three candidates
Reyes was picked first, a man familiar to many already since he ran against Swallow in last year's primary election. Reyes said he can now set his sites on larger goals for the Attorney General's Office — goals he's had all along.
"I think I want what they want, and what the state wants," Reyes said, referring to committee members and residents growing weary of the John Swallow controversy. "I want to return the Attorney General's Office, first to a law office and not a political office."
Smith has had a wide range of legal experience, currently serving as director of BYU's International Center for Law and Religious Studies. He was backed by many outspoken conservatives on the Central Committee.
"I come to this proposition fresh," Smith said. "I'm interested only in the will of the people and rule of law. I really have a desire to be a public servant."
Of the three, Brian Tarbet, retired General of the Utah National Guard, is the only candidate who said he has no interest in running for election next year to take over the rest of Swallow's term.
The person selected by the governor will only serve temporarily under state law, since Swallow resigned after just one year in his four-year term.
"My goal is to fix the office and make the changes that need to be made, and have everything running like a Swiss watch," Tarbet said. "It's a great office. We've got work to do, but it's a great office."
Now that Reyes, Smith and Tarbet are officially submitted for consideration, the governor will conduct in-depth interviews with each of them before making a selection. Herbert said he hopes that decision can be made by Christmas.
Other candidates react to vote
Retired Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins had said he would not run next November but reversed his stand Saturday, announcing that if the party had a "genuine desire" to see him on the ballot, "I will listen."
Wilkins withdrew his candidacy and urged support for Tarbet after finishing next to last in the second round of voting.
All of the candidates spoke of the need to make changes in the office, which Swallow assumed in early January, shortly before allegations of influence peddling and other wrongdoing began to surface.
Michelle Mumford used the strongest language to describe what was wrong with the office under Swallow, including comparing his recorded conversation about a "burner" phone as "like drug dealers trying to avoid a wiretap."
Mumford, the assistant dean of admissions at the BYU law school, also addressed her husband, attorney Marcus Mumford, representing one of Swallow's chief accusers, imprisoned businessman Marc Jenson.
"You should know I'm my own woman," she said.
Brett Rawson, who has worked with Marcus Mumford on the Jenson case, said he had fought against corruption. "Fighting against evil does not connect you to evil," he said without being more specific.
Former Iron County Attorney Scott Burns, the first candidate eliminated after he finished last in the first two rounds of balloting, pledged to work with the winner.
"I am a good Republican," he said.
Burns ran unsuccessfully against the state's last Democratic attorney general, Jan Graham. Until recently, he worked in Washington, D.C., raising questions about whether he met the residency requirement to serve as Utah attorney general.