clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Find a worthy attorney general

As is often the case with high-profile, public scandals, the aftermath of the John Swallow scandal is proving to be as interesting as the scandal itself. While numerous organizations and individuals have weighed in on the process by which a new attorney general is ultimately selected to fill the job of Utah’s top cop, there is good reason for Gov. Gary Herbert to consider historical precedent when making his decision.

What Utah needs is its own Cincinnatus — the same Roman figure on which George Washington modeled not only his political career, but his personal life as well.

The Roman historian Titus Livy, who chronicled the political career of Cincinnatus, called Cincinnatus “the one hope of Rome.” The account should be required reading for anyone seeking the attorney general’s office.

“It is worthwhile,” said Livy, “for those who despise all human interests in comparison with riches, and think that there is no scope for high honours or for virtue except where lavish wealth abounds to listen to this story.” Those seeking the attorney general’s office should do likewise.

Cincinnatus was twice called upon by the Roman Senate to lead Rome successfully out of a national crisis by agreeing to serve as Magister Populi; twice he resigned that power after accomplishing the required task. The first time around he was called to serve mid-plow. The second time he was relaxing in retirement. Based on Livy’s portrayal, it would be hard to argue that Cincinnatus was a politico.

Barring the Republican Central Committee’s ability to do so, Herbert should bring out of retirement a Utah Cincinnatus to restore order and virtue to the attorney general’s office.

And what will be the qualities of our Cincinnatus? The custodian of the attorney general’s office would be appointed to office not with the expectation of running again in November 2014, but with the sole mandate of bringing order and fairness to the attorney general’s office. This is a true citizen’s task: to go into the attorney general’s office and clean it up, with no expectation of keeping that office.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the Cincinnatus solution is a uniquely republican solution, modeled as it is after the Roman Republic from which the American founders drew most of their theoretical cues. Being a republican solution, it is obviously less democratic than the solution of holding an immediate, statewide election to replace the disgraced John Swallow. But there is a sense in which it has a little bit of both.

This solution will ensure the benefits of a special election, as the state Democratic Party has repeatedly requested — candidates interested in running for attorney general from either party will not be faced with the burden of running against an appointed incumbent, either in a general election or in a state primary — while also ensuring that constitutional principles are followed that require the governor to appoint a replacement from the Republican Party.

There is no question that voters were stripped of their right to participate in a fair and honest election when Swallow was elected. Voters deserve restitution. But there is no way to completely erase the damaging results of Attorney General John Swallow’s election to public office. We need a Cincinnatus to do that. We can get one if the governor appoints a new attorney general who values holding the public’s trust more than holding public office.

Maryann Martindale was one of the original petitioners on the election law violation complaint. She is executive director of the Alliance for a Better UTAH.