Utah attorney general candidates hold 1st debate

Utah attorney general candidates hold 1st debate

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — The decision by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to defend the state's polygamy and gay marriage bans is a waste of money, according to Democrat Charles Stormont.

Speaking at a debate in Provo on Wednesday, Stormont criticized Reyes' decision to pursue "hot button issues," that he says distracts from other matters and adds to attorneys' heavy caseloads.

Reyes, a Republican, said his office cannot pick and choose which laws to defend.

"If you're running for attorney general, you'd better be ready to defend all of the laws, whether you agree with them or not, whether they're politically convenient or not."

The debate at Brigham Young University was organized by the new Utah Debate Commission and marked the first debate in the special election for Utah attorney general.

Reyes has served as the state's top lawman after former Attorney General John Swallow resigned last year.

Swallow, a Republican, stepped down in December amid multiple allegations of misconduct.

He and his predecessor, Republican Mark Shurtleff, now face bribery charges after prosecutors say they traded favors for gifts and cash.

Shurtleff and Swallow have not yet entered a plea but have denied any wrongdoing.

The ongoing scandal has colored the race for attorney general this year, as Reyes and Stormont vie to fill the last two years of Swallow's term.

"Nine months ago, I inherited an office racked with scandal and controversy," Reyes said Wednesday.

Now, Reyes said he's boosted salaries, asked managers to reapply for their jobs and improved office morale.

Stormont said no real changes have been made, saying there's a "leadership crisis" in the office. He instead touted his plan for a new ethics hotline where citizens can call in complaints about government officials.

Both candidates pledge to restore public trust in the office by eschewing campaign donations from industries that could create a conflict of interest with office investigations.

They both said during Wednesday's debate that they would support limits on campaign contributions. Stormont said donors shouldn't be allowed to cut a $10,000 check, while Reyes said he had no specific limits in mind.

Reyes and Stormont agreed on many issues, but their starkest contrast came over gay marriage and polygamy.

After a federal judge struck down parts of Utah's anti-polygamy law that forbids cohabitation, Reyes announced earlier this year that he would appeal.

The law was challenged by the family featured on the reality TV show "Sister Wives."

Stormont called the case a "tremendous sideshow with a reality TV star," and said Utah doesn't even charge people under the law.

He said pursuing the polygamy defense is a waste of money, as is defending Utah's same-sex marriage ban.

If the U.S. Supreme Court considers the dispute over Utah's same-sex marriage ban, the state will lose, Stormont said.

Reyes said the issue will not be settled until the high court weighs in, and as attorney general, he can't abandon the fight.

The U.S. Supreme Court could consider Utah's same-sex marriage case during its upcoming term. A decision to hear the case could come as early as this week.


Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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