Swallow should put his office first and step down

darkcloudsThe following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

I have joined the growing ranks of people who think Utah Attorney General John Swallow should step down from office. I say this with some regret – I consider John to be a friend. I also consider him to be a competent attorney. And I know he’s human.

Every person in business and politics faces circumstances that question our integrity. The higher up you are, the more you face these circumstances. And the charges and accusations fly at you even when nothing is wrong.

But politics involves money, power and ego if it involves anything – and, sooner or later, even the best of us gets bedeviled by it all. Politics breeds cultures of corruption. Frankly, many aspects of the political process, to be effective, require levels of confidentiality. Unfortunately, the need for confidentiality can turn into a cloak of secrecy and scheming. A culture of corruption is nearly inevitable – which is why good government requires openness and transparency.

I can imagine that John Swallow, like so many other politicians, unfortunately, found himself working within a culture of corruption, even a subtle culture, that influenced him to think differently than he might otherwise think about his own personal ethics and proprieties. Politics is a nasty game. Only the strong need apply. And the lines of propriety get blurry real fast.

The attorney general deserves his day in court if it gets to that point. He certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt as an American citizen – we call it innocent until proven guilty. He is under investigation and, so far, he has welcomed the investigations. For that, he is to be commended.

But a person who values integrity would go one step further. A person of integrity holding public office would put that office before himself. That the Attorney General’s Office functions day-to-day and completes its assigned duties, even under these stressful circumstances, isn’t really the point. The point about integrity isn’t about function as much as it is about the confidence that citizens have in the people they elect – especially the person they elect to be the state’s top cop. There are few disappointments in politics worse than perceived, let alone real, corruption within law enforcement. John Swallow is the chief law enforcement officer in Utah and precisely because I believe that he strives to be a man of integrity, he should step down.

That’s a tough thing for me to say. Politics is also filled with awful people who not only muckrake for a living (sometimes just for kicks) but who actually relish the thought of a prominent politician falling from grace. Sometimes the media is partly responsible for the feeding frenzy of innuendo and accusations. In this case, most of the accusations come from convicted felons. But there’s enough evidence to suggest that something is wrong in the Swallow case – maybe it’s only his judgment, but even still, that is a big consideration for citizens who demand complete integrity from their top cop.

We have to distinguish between ethics and morality and breaking the law. It could be that everything John did was within the law and yet still unethical. He should be mindful of that. Most citizens require the ethical along with the legal.

I hope nothing is wrong. I remember Ronald Reagan’s Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, who was accused of corruption only to be found innocent of all charges. Donovan was asked if he was relieved with the verdict. He replied, “Yes, but where do I go now to get my good name back?”

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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