Several years ago while on assignment with the U.S. government in West Africa, I participated in a meeting that was attempting to define the elements of “good governance.”
The discussion centered on institutional safeguards such as transparency, internal controls, fair elections, etc.
Good Governance is My Responsibility
Finally, I commented to a colleague that there didn’t appear to any role for the individual citizen in what was being discussed. He took a minute to think about it and then wrote down the following: “Good governance is my responsibility.”
In Utah, we need to embrace this statement and we need to accept the fact that the Attorney General scandal exists primarily because both individually and collectively “we” have failed to ensure good governance in Utah.
Attorney General Scandal – “My” Responsibility
In the case of the Utah Attorney General scandal, all of the signs were there and had been there for years. “We” only had to pay attention and see them.
Current Attorney General, John Swallow worked for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff who “we” elected three times in spite of Shurtleff’s well-known questionable ethical and legal practices. By electing and reelecting Shurtleff, “we” sent the message to all those running for office that “we” accept and reward this type of behavior.
“We” Put Shurtleff and Swallow in Office
The bottom line is that Shurtleff and Swallow did not put themselves in office. “We” did.
“We” elected delegates who sent Shurtleff to a primary election when he first ran. “We” then gave Shurtleff 63% of our votes in that primary election and 58% in the general election. In the next two general elections, in spite of warning signs about Shurtleff, “we” gave him 69% of “our” votes.
Delegates sent Swallow to a primary election in 2012 and then “We” voted for Swallow over Sean Reyes in the primary election by a margin of 68% to 32%. In the general election, 65% of those of “us” who even bothered to vote chose Swallow over credible Democrat and Libertarian opponents.
The fact is that it is the collective “we,” the citizens of Utah who voted and who didn’t vote, who are active in politics and who are not active in politics, who are members of a political party and who are not members of any party, who voted first for Shurtleff and then for Swallow because “we” didn’t want to throw “our” votes away on a candidate who couldn’t win, are all responsible for the Attorney General mess.
Almost all of “us” who voted for Shurtleff and Swallow did so without ever giving the other candidates on the general election ballot the courtesy of even looking at their campaign materials. If “we” had, “we” may have found that they were viable options with good ideas and untainted backgrounds.
And those of “us” who didn’t vote are equally or even more responsible because “we” did nothing at all.
Utah’s mainstream media also failed in its duty to the citizens because it largely gave Shurtleff a pass and sat on the Swallow story until after the election.
The candidates running against Shurtleff and Swallow failed to challenge their questionable activities because “we,” the voters, would have accused them of running a negative, divisive campaign rather than being “nice” and sticking to platitudes supplemented with family photos.
Legislators of both parties, individually and collectively, totally abdicated their oversight responsibilities during Shurtleff’s entire tenure thereby giving him free reign to do whatever he wanted regardless of whether it was legal or ethical.
And “we” Republicans didn’t say anything because “we” put winning above all else. And “we” Democrats so marginalized ourselves that we ceased to be a viable party in Utah.
Try as “we” may, “we” can’t shift the blame to Utah’s campaign finance laws because if “we” were the type of people required by our system of government and if we just did our due diligence by Googling the various candidates in order to dig into their backgrounds and positions while ignoring the political hype and spin, money would lose its influence.
Institutional Changes and Safeguards Not Adequate
Unfortunately, like the discussion in Africa, “our” efforts to ensure good governance in Utah are focused on institutional changes and still more safeguards even though they haven’t worked in the past – make the Attorney General an appointed position, abolish the caucus/convention system, implement strict campaign finance limitations, establish ethics panels, limit lobbyist activities, create more internal controls, etc.
However, just like in Africa, institutional changes and safeguards will not guarantee good governance. It is up to us to accept “our” personal responsibility for good governance.
Accepting Personal Responsibility for Good Governance
What would happen if all Utah voters signed an online pledge stating that they would not vote for any candidate who used anything more than a simple, free website containing biographical and policy statements, free social media and public meetings and rallies in public parks, on street corners or at other free public facilities?
After all, this all that was necessary carry out the Arab Spring and bring down governments so why shouldn’t it be enough for Utah political candidates and citizens?
Of course, there would be for a hue and cry from all those who profit from the current system led by the media whose advertising revenues would take a substantial hit.
There would also be extensive weeping and wailing from the despicable campaign consultants and lobbyists who play by Church Ball Rules and who have turned the political process into the cesspool that it is today.
And the biggest scream of all would come from the “Buy My Vote” group which is headed and supported by Utah’s movers and shakers because they would no longer be able to use their money to control the state’s political process and the spoils that go along with it.
Will “we” accept our individual responsibility for ensuring good governance or will “we” continue to blame others? The smart money is on the latter.