Utah attorney general candidates debate at BYU

Republican Sean Reyes (left) and Democrat Charles Stormont (right), candidates for attorney general of Utah, debate on BYU's campus.
Republican Sean Reyes (left) and Democrat Charles Stormont (right), candidates for attorney general of Utah, debate on BYU’s campus. (J. Mason Nordfelt)

BYU played host on Wednesday to a debate between Sean Reyes (R) and Charles Stormont (D), the two candidates running for attorney general of Utah.

The candidates debated on a myriad of issues, but the underlying theme of the evening centered around restoring trust to the office after the allegations of corruption that plagued the past two attorneys general, John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff.

“I am incredibly frustrated by the leadership crisis that has infected the attorney general’s office,” said Stormont in his opening statement. “It’s time to clean the office up with real reform.”

Reyes believes he has already done considerable work to “bring back integrity, credibility and a commitment to excellence” to the office since the governor appointed him to fill the position.

“Morale in the office has gone from an all-time low to sky high in just nine months,” he said.

Another issue discussed at length during the debate and the post-debate press conferences was the candidates’ differing positions with regard to Utah’s same-sex marriage case that is set to go before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Reyes spoke about his duty to support and defend all the laws of the state of Utah until they are changed by the people of Utah or the Supreme Court declares them unconstitutional.

“You can’t thwart the democratic process because you think that you’re smarter than the Supreme Court,” he said. “Even the plaintiffs (in the same-sex marriage case) agree with me that they want a clear and final answer, and they deserve it.”

Stormont, however, sees the office of attorney general as more of a “legal adviser” role, “giving good, honest and fair legal advice to the people of Utah.”

“The attorney general is supposed to be a check and a balance on abuse of powers by the other branches of government in Utah; that’s how it’s set up in our constitution,” he said. “When we pick one law and throw money at it, knowing that we’re going to lose, we choose to ignore real crises in the office.”

On Reyes’ claim that both parties seek closure in the case, Stormont was skeptical.

“When you file an appeal, and your opponent, who won at the lower court level, says, ‘Yeah, we want it heard too,’ I think that tells you what kind of a case you have,” he said.

When asked whether or not there would be more debates before election day, Stormont said he would “love to have more.”

“I think that there are a lot more questions that we didn’t get into tonight,” he said. “I think that civic engagement and dialogue is incredibly important in any election.”

Reyes, however, said another debate may not be possible due to the demands on his position, or even necessary.

“I thought that the debate tonight was pretty comprehensive, and (in another debate) the likelihood would be that they’d ask seven of the same eight questions,” he said. “The best campaign message that I can send to the people is to work my tail off in the office.”

Audio of the entire debate can be heard at utahdebatecommission.org/debate-archive.

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