Democratic AG Candidate Greg Skordas On Privacy And Utah’s Lawsuit Against The Affordable Care Act
After an unsuccessful run for Utah attorney general in 2004, Democrat Greg Skordas is back — challenging Republican incumbent Sean Reyes.
Politics reporter Emily Means spoke with Skordas about the lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act, police reform and why he’s running again for attorney general.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Emily Means: You’ve criticized current Attorney General Sean Reyes for participating in politics while in office. He’s said it doesn’t interfere with his work, and he’s exercising his rights as a citizen. When do you think it’s appropriate for an AG to participate in party politics?
Greg Skordas: I think it's OK to participate in party politics if it's consistent with the will of the people. Utah voters went to the ballot box in 2018 and passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. It was not a Republican or Democrat vote. It was a bipartisan vote.
Our attorney general has ignored that entirely. And, in fact, has joined a lawsuit nationally at the behest of the president to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional during a pandemic. Are you kidding me? Is there a worse time to participate in party politics? No, there probably isn't. And that's exactly what he's doing and exactly what he has done during his seven years in office.
EM: Attorney General Reyes has said that the ACA is unconstitutional and hasn't lived up to its promises. So should we continue to be part of this lawsuit?
GS: We should not be part of the lawsuit. But more importantly, if we're going to say that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, and the argument is that it's an unlawful taxation and that the legislature did it wrong — given that the legislature wants it, given that the people want it — let's propose an alternative. He has no alternative, none at all, which is 180 degrees contrary to the will of the people.
EM: But is it the Attorney General's role to propose an alternative? He's not a legislator.
GS: That's true, but he's acting as a super legislator when he challenges the Affordable Care Act. Worse than that, Utah voters passed a ballot initiative. He's their attorney. That's what your clients are telling you to do. They're saying we've passed legislation, now help us enforce it. That's what the attorney general does. I'm not saying write legislation and propose it, but I'm saying when the voters go to the ballot box like they did, you respect the will of those people and you help enact that law.
EM: One of your top priorities is the right to privacy, and you’ve criticized some of the state’s law enforcement contracts with surveillance companies. How do you think about the balance between the two issues, privacy and public safety?
GS: That's just one of the things that every good prosecutor and defense attorney has to wrestle with and judges have to balance — the right of the public to have what we call an expectation of privacy and the right to law enforcement to do their job. Law enforcement — and I know this because I represent law enforcement — they have incredible tools available to them. They have the search warrant process. They have other avenues where judges can authorize them to wiretap, to put surveillance on cars, to do things like that.
When we start branching out into private businesses that spy on citizens, especially those that are given what we call sole source contracts, contracts without any bid process and contracts that are given to individuals that have insider information and insider confidences with the attorney general, that creates a real potential for the conflict of interest.
And of course, we got bit hard by that here in Utah. I think it was an embarrassment when we had this big contract with Banjo and ultimately learned that it wasn't what it was professed to be, that the owners weren't who they were professed to be, and that the attorney general got caught up in what we call a “pay for play.” He was given enough favors that he allowed for a contract that should have never been granted.
EM: Let's talk about law enforcement, because this summer we've seen a movement — across the country and here in Utah — with protests against police brutality. How do you view calls to defund the police?
GS: I think calls to defund the police are misguided. I think police reform is something that's coming down the tracks and something that I have spoken to citizen groups, minority groups and police groups and said, here's what reform looks like. Here's what we can do to help our law enforcement, not to defund them and not to even change the allocation of money.
But, for example, I have so many people who tell me we don't respond very well to domestic violence situations. They're high-risk situations. They really are. That's because we probably don't have enough people working in law enforcement who are taught to diffuse and bring a calming influence.
I think the attorney general and the county attorneys have an absolute role to sit down with the legislature and say, look, these are crimes that we're seeing. These are situations we're dealing with. How are we going to mitigate these going forward? How are you going to make sure that this doesn't happen down the road?
EM: You ran for attorney general 16 years ago and lost to the Republican incumbent then. Why are you running again? And what's different this time?
GS: Unfortunately, what's different this time is nothing. The attorney general is still for sale. The attorney general is still, in my opinion, one of the most dishonest offices in the state, maybe the history of this state. In fact, the current attorney general has taken that to a level that even the predecessors never achieved.
That's why I'm running, because there's still a for sale sign on the attorney general's door. It's bigger and brighter than ever, and it allows for individuals that should be prosecuted or should be investigated by the attorney general to avoid that inspection simply by giving a generous campaign contribution. That is wrong. That is immoral and it absolutely has to stop, and it hasn't. It's gotten worse.