There is a reason 43 states elect an attorney general who can champion the rights of the People and defend their liberties without the permission of the governor, legislature or any other official. Appointed AGs can’t exercise independent discretion or decision making and they become just an extension of the governor or whomever appoints them.
While the AG looks to collaborate with other officeholders, he or she needs autonomy to be responsive to the People of the State and stand up for them without interference. AG Reyes has been able to restore the good name of the UAGO with accountability, transparency and expectations for the highest quality of legal work.
That is, in large part, because AG Reyes is independently elected and running the UAGO like a law firm, winning milestone cases for the state, defending the laws passed by the legislature, and protecting businesses, children, and all Utahns from crime and federal overreach.
The Office of Legislative Counsel and Legislative Leadership has said on many occasions they have never had a better or more productive relationship with the UAGO.
Concerns over the conduct of elected AGs apply equally to appointed AGs as evidenced by the number of appointed AGs in the last several years resigning over alleged misconduct.
This is not the first time the question has been considered, nor will it be the last. The disagreements at play will change but the bedrock principles remain the same. In 1995, the Deseret News opined, “The state would do a great disservice to its residents by pushing a current proposal to make the office of attorney general an appointed one.”
The article continues:
[A]n appointed attorney general would have no watchdog authority. Instead, he or she would serve at the whim of the governor – a political appointment more accountable to the chief executive than to the people. Even allowing the governor to choose only department-head representatives would seriously compromise the attorney general’s ability to independently deal with controversial subjects.
Accountability is a vital ingredient in any successful democracy, and the public benefits more from direct, rather than indirect, accountability. Utahns are best served by being able to choose their own attorney general.
The Utah Constitution calls for an independent Attorney General to maintain essential checks and balances. It provides the same safety, independence and accountability for the Treasurer, Auditor and State School Board. As disagreements arise, appropriate solutions will always be found in discussions in the public square, and actions at the ballot box, but never by undermining the constitutional rights of citizens to select their leaders.