As former Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff headed off to jail Tuesday, I couldn’t help but think of the long list of elected officials that have endorsed their campaigns. In fact, Swallow’s list of endorsements reads like a who’s who of GOP elected officials in Utah. I’m sure a lot of them are left with a very strong sense of buyer’s remorse (some more than others). I think this also underscores a very distasteful cultural practice in party politics: the expectation that elected officials will automatically provide their endorsement to the party’s nominees.
It’s almost a given. The party machine that helps put you in power expects your near-unconditional fealty towards the others who benefit from the system. Given the “team sports” nature of partisan politics, it’s not entirely unexpected. It ended up getting a lot of people who probably didn’t even really like John Swallow to go on the record as endorsing him. Ironically, that loyalty could end up being a major electoral problem in future intraparty challenges. Just look at how Brad Daw booted Dana Layton to the curb in last month’s primary election.
Only a handful of legislators declined to offer their personal seal of approval, most notably Sen. Steve Urquhart. He’s also been pretty actively going after both Swallow and Shurtleff for their violations of the public trust. How different would the election had been had more elected officials stood up and said “we picked a turkey” instead of going with the flow? More importantly, how much better off would we have been had more elected officials not shown deference to Shurtleff’s endorsement of his alleged partner in crime and hand-picked successor? The practice encourages corruption all the way down.
So here’s a challenge to elected officials: be brave enough to say “no” when the party nominee asks for your endorsement unless they truly deserve it. Believe it or not, your chosen political party will, at least once an election cycle, nominate an unqualified candidate. Do you really want to stake your reputation on an unknown candidate just to appease party leadership?
(Footnote: As Swallow and Shurtleff wind through the legal system, it’s only going to get uglier. Everyone expects right-hand-man Jason Powers to be charged with something eventually. One or more of these characters will probably seek to spill their guts to get reduced sentences. That could implicate a lot of elected officials and campaign staff, if not of crimes then of extremely poor judgement of who to employ. It’s only getting uglier, folks.)