The Democratic nominee for Utah’s race for attorney general is already decided, but two Republican primary candidates will face off for their party’s spot on the November ballot: incumbent Attorney General Sean Reyes and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt.
Emily Means spoke with Sean Reyes about his campaign and work as attorney general.
Emily Means: You’ve been Utah’s attorney general since December 2013. What do you see as the most important role of the AG?
Sean Reyes: For me, primarily, it's protecting the people — the families, the children of Utah, the businesses — from violent crimes, from white collar frauds and crimes, from other threats — including things like the opioid epidemic or mental and behavioral health challenges that lead people to addiction, suicide. Sometimes it's a balance, because while I'm trying to protect people, you have to make sure that you don't violate privacy and liberties. So, there are constant tensions that way.
EM: Your primary opponent, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, says his number one priority is criminal justice reform. But you've made that part of your platform as well. So what changes do you think are needed in Utah's criminal justice system?
SR: One that I want to highlight on a national level where Utah played an important role is the First Step Act. That was fundamental in changing a number of different inequities — weaknesses in the criminal justice system.
It dealt with everything from sentencing, to incentives, to how we house prisoners. I was very proud that I was able to help pass that bill.
It is an important issue. It's not the most important issue. I mean, it's not certainly the only issue that the AG's office has to deal with.
EM: The state has contracted with some surveillance companies in an effort to quickly respond to crimes. How do you balance privacy and public safety going forward?
SR: We want to utilize technology in some ways just to keep up with the criminals who are implementing technology and finding new and more devious ways every single day to steal money from us, to terrorize us, to exploit our children.
But you can't, in the interests of public safety, destroy privacy interests or liberty interests. Which is why, at least for my office, we have never contracted with a company that violated privacy — that took in, for instance, personal private information that could be monetized, exploited for other purposes. I am, in fact, helping to lead national investigations into private sector companies that we believe might have done those very things.
So from the state level, we absolutely have to make sure that we do not, in the interests of protecting our citizens, violate other rights and liberties that they have. And I had actually started, this last year, trying to put together a committee to review any type of surveillance information. We like transparency. We want to be open. And I think having more of those committees to help evaluate is a good, healthy, positive thing.
EM: You've shown your support or opposition to a number of federal policies and also, in his endorsement of you, Donald Trump Jr. said you've been a fighter for his father, President Trump. When do you think AGs should get involved in political issues?
SR: Actually, I think if most people of goodwill looked at what we do in the AG's office day in and day out, they'd be surprised how little politics are involved. We don't care if a lawyer that I hire is a Democrat or Republican. I just want the best lawyers. I want the most qualified investigators. I want the people who are going to do the best job for Utah.
But there are times in elections when I'm running for office, or a president that I've been able to work with and who has opened up a lot of resources for the state of Utah, I think it's not only acceptable, but I think it's a positive thing to have an attorney general be able to advocate. I do that on my own time, on my own dime. I don't use state resources. So, when I'm doing my own personal and campaign activities, I think it's appropriate and healthy. You see Democratic attorneys general doing that on the other side. It's a good tension. That's what our political system was set up and intended to do.
EM: You've been in office now for just about seven years. Are there changes in your administration that you would like to see or any areas for growth that build on what you've already done during your time in office?
SR: I would like to continue in the direction that we're going. I don't have any major policy changes. In terms of philosophy or approach, the people that work with me day in and day out know that I'm collaborative, that I work across the aisle, that I work with Democrats and Republicans, rural leaders, as well as urban and suburban. And that basically I want to get the job done.
If there's one thing, I think we could be even more open. We sit down and have groups that come in and meet with us all the time from different racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds, sexual orientation backgrounds. We can always use more of that to get different perspectives, whether they agree or disagree with me. I think it's helpful and it's part of my duties to make sure that as we're representing everyone, that we hear all those perspectives. So if I can fit in a few more of those types of meetings, I would love to do it.
Emily Means covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @Em_Means13