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A candid conversation with Utah Attorney General candidate Charles Stormont

Charles Stormont is certainly not a typical politician.  He’s thoughtful almost to the point of being reserved, but surprisingly very direct and candid in his responses to questions about his candidacy and philosophy.  He’s definitely not what this reporter expected from a Democratic candidate for statewide office in Utah.

The office of Attorney General has received a higher level of scrutiny this time around than it has in previous years, mostly due to the scandal-plagued one-year term of John Swallow, who resigned the office in November 2013 under the pressure of numerous ethical and potentially criminal investigations into his conduct.  Since that time, the office has been headed by an appointed AG, Republican Sean Reyes.

In his short tenure, Reyes has stepped into a number of high-profile situations, including the Kitchen v. Herbert case that overturned Utah’s Amendment 3 and a suit he filed with the Utah State Supreme Court on April 9, seeking to block adoptions by same-sex couples that had been approved by state judges.

Stormont sees the role of the Attorney General differently than Reyes, who also happens to be his boss.  Stormont has worked for the Utah Attorney General’s office since 2008, handling primarily civil matters for government agencies such as the Utah Department of Transportation. His vision for the office is that it needs to function like a law firm, not a policy-making office. He stressed the need for new structures to be put in place in order to prevent the recurrence of scandals such as those that happened during previous administrations, scandals that he labeled as distractions that get in the way of good attorneys doing the good day-to-day work that the state and the taxpayers deserve to have done on their behalf.

He spoke about the state’s continued appeal of Judge Shelby’s ruling that struck down Utah’s discriminatory Amendment 3, arguing that he wouldn’t waste tax dollars to defend the unconstitutional law. Stormont stressed that not only was the law wrong, but that the state’s arguments were neither strong nor convincing, making the defense of it a waste of money.

When asked about his thoughts regarding the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity into Utah’s existing non-discrimination language he again stressed that policy-making is outside the realm of what he sees as the role of the Attorney General, but that he was “baffled by how the Attorney General could advise the legislature that running a non-discrimination bill could show animus.”

In Denver two weeks ago, this reporter asked Reyes why, if he is such a supporter of strong families, he was seeking to block adoptions for same-sex couples legally wed during the 17-day window.  Reyes responded that he “wasn’t seeking to block adoptions, but to clarify the law.”  When asked for comment, Stormont responded, “then why did he file to block adoptions?”

Stormont acknowledged that running as a Democrat in Utah has its inherent disadvantages, and that perhaps his strong statements (noted on his website) supporting an end to the Kitchen v. Herbert appeal and his opposition to the April 9 adoption filing, might offend some potential voters. When asked about that, he indicated that he had written that post and debated with himself about publishing it, considering the possible political ramifications, but that his wife then showed him a video of a young woman “doing the right thing” and that hit a nerve. As his young children grow (currently 5½ and 3 years old), he wants them to understand that when the time came, he was ready to stand and fight for “the right thing.”

As far as being the underdog blue candidate in red Utah, Stormont is optimistic.

“We desperately need a new voice in Utah and a lawyer, not a politician, in the Attorney General’s office,” he said.  “Utah is aware of what’s going on there, and the voters are ready to get the office back on track.  I can do that.  I can restore the public trust in the office.”

Charles Stormont is definitely not a typical politician.  His candor and willingness to sit down and discuss issues other candidates avoid like the plague were refreshing to this reporter.  Will that message succeed with Utah voters?  That question will be answered in November.

 

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