Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes On Police Reform And Why He Wants Another Term In Office
Republican Sean Reyes has been Utah’s attorney general since 2013. Democrat Greg Skordas is challenging him for that position.
Politics reporter Emily Means spoke with Reyes about criminal justice reform, politics and why he says he’s the best person for the job.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Emily Means: You’ve said that you engage in politics on your own time, and it doesn’t interfere with your job. Over the past few months, you’ve spoken at the Republican National Convention and attended a rally for President Trump. Why is taking part in that political process important to you?
Sean Reyes: I think it's as important to me as any other citizen. We all feel strongly about certain values and principles that are reflected by party membership. It's a constitutional right.
But I clearly draw a distinction between that and what I do on a day to day basis in terms of the responsibilities of serving the people, of protecting the elderly, of keeping children who are abused out of harm's way. All of those things are the bread and butter of what the attorney general does for his or her job. I think those two things are not mutually exclusive. You can absolutely live up to all of the responsibilities that the people have voted you in to accomplish and still be able to participate fairly in party politics.
EM: Criminal justice reform is one of your priorities. But you've also shown your support for the president's focus on law and order. A listener named Sarah asked this question: What are you doing to ensure equity and fairness in the criminal justice system?
SR: I've balanced aggressively holding people accountable who violate the law, making sure at the same time that those who are accused and convicted are treated fairly in our criminal justice system.
For example, I helped work with Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, and others in Congress in a bipartisan way with the Trump administration to pass the First Step Act, which was landmark correctional sentencing reform. I helped bring reintegration programs into Utah, job skills training to adults and youth so that they have a chance, after they've paid their debt to society, to reintegrate and be productive citizens. I supported key parts of Utah's Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2014 and 2015. These were again, landmark historic reforms to our criminal justice system. And I've been critical that you have to fund those reforms, or you're almost worse off after having created them and then not properly funding them.
EM: This summer's seen a movement across the country and here in Utah with protests against police brutality. How do you view the calls to defund the police?
SR: Let me say, first of all, I think I have a unique perspective both as the state's top law enforcement officer and as a person of color. I'm the first statewide elected official in the history of Utah from any minority community. And I grew up in a tough neighborhood in L.A. and saw evidence of police brutality there.
In terms of specific police reform, I think there's definitely room for growth and reform, and the sheriffs and police chiefs that I've spoken with also believe that. Do I believe that everyone in the system is bigoted? Absolutely not. But are there knuckleheads in law enforcement? Certainly, just like any industry. We need to have a zero-tolerance policy for that.
The one thing that I feel really heartened about is that it wasn't just this summer in the wake of the George Floyd murder that we started to, in Utah, address these issues. We created some cutting-edge programs in Utah — violence de-escalation programs, critical incident training. You don't have to defund or dismantle the police to have a lot of these community programs. We can do both. We have to have the political will to fund all those programs. And police would be the first to stand with minority communities for more afterschool programs. Those things can exist and do well working in complement with traditional law enforcement. There doesn't need to be a binary decision of one or the other. And law enforcement would be better and stronger that way.
EM: You've been Utah's attorney general since 2013. What makes you the best candidate in 2020?
SR: I care maybe even more now that I've seen so many cases of abuse, violence, to protect the great citizens of Utah. I have the experience, the leadership qualities. I'm collaborative. I work daily with Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians, and we get results.
I want to finish this work that I've started. I want to build on the momentum that my team and I have created. I've got incredible professionals that I've been able to recruit to the AG's office. They're getting paid far less than what they got paid in the private sector, and they're such dedicated public servants.
I love my service as attorney general, and it's been the honor of a lifetime. And I want four more years to be able to finish what I started, a lot of these initiatives that will protect us — not just in the short term, but in the long term and set us up for generations to come to be a stronger, more united people in Utah.