SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Allegations that culminated in this week’s arrests of two former Republican attorneys general on a slew of bribery charges left a dark cloud over the state’s top law enforcement office and the dominant political party.
After the arrests, some Democrats have gone so far as to blame the stranglehold the GOP has on state politics for alleged the corruption.
“When you have one party in total power, there’s no checks and balances in the system,” said State Democratic chair Peter Corroon.
Other political observers say public faith in the state’s top law enforcement office has been shaken, with many wondering what exactly happened while John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff were at the helm.
Swallow, 51, and Shurtleff, 56, both maintain their innocence and said they look forward to fighting the combined 23 charges they face in court.
According to prosecutors, both men had cozy relationships with several businessmen who plied them with gold coins, lavish trips, flights on private planes and trips aboard a luxury houseboat.
Though people may be willing to give the interim attorney general a chance, the scandal could erode broader public trust in government, said Damon Cann, a political scientist at Utah State University.
“People tend to presume the worst about politicians, and in this instance the worst appears to have been true,” Cann said.
One legislator recalled how a constituent came to her with concerns about a foreclosure in 2012 and she led the woman to the attorney general’s office, believing she would be taken care of.
“I said that in good faith, believing that would be done,” said state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City. “And from what’s being alleged, this did not happen - for personal gain. And that is very sad to me. “
Republican leaders have tried to distance themselves and the party from the scandal.
State GOP party chair James Evan called Corroon’s comments about one-party power “ludicrous,” and declined to discuss the fallout. He cast it as a legal matter, and not a political one.
Corroon said Democrats didn’t want to benefit from the scandal, “but I think certainly the message should be from this that unless citizens of Utah are willing to look at a two-party system, there’s just going to more of this kind of behavior.”
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, a Taylorsville Republican who led a legislative investigation of Swallow, rejected Corroon’s idea, saying it might only have merit if Swallow was still in office.
“I think it would be different if we did nothing and that came out today and people could say, you knew about these allegations and you ignored it,” he said. “We did not ignore it.”