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Behind the Ballot: Democrat vies for attorney general, promising to ‘pay attention to what voters want’

Before Greg Skordas began his career as a private law practitioner, the lawyer said he dedicated his life to public service. After eight years at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Skordas left the public realm — without intentions of returning. 

Now, he’s running as the Utah attorney general, noting he never expected to re-enter public service. However, he said after being “disappointed” by the actions of the office during previous administrations, he felt compelled to throw his hat in the ring. 

“There’s a culture there, that the legal community — we call it pay-for-play — where individuals who are taking advantage of Utah consumers […] can avoid scrutiny of that office, simply by making large campaign contributions,” Skordas told The Forum. “That’s just offensive to me. That’s really problematic to me.”

Skordas will face incumbent Attorney General Sean Reyes (R-UT), who has held the seat since 2013. While in office, Reyes has seen support from several big donors — reporting $1.35 million in donations during his four-year term ahead of his re-election bid. 

That’s 50 times more than any of his Republican challengers reported before the GOP primary June 30. 

Skordas said it was practices like these — done by Reyes’ campaign team and previous administrations — that convinced him to run. 

He also said he focused his campaign on protecting voters’ interests. He pointed to three ballot initiatives — Propositions 1, 2 and 3 — passed by the Utah majority in 2018. The initiatives were all either not enacted or were amended by the state legislature in the following legislative session. 

“The reason why voters pass ballot initiatives is because the legislature is not doing something that the people want them to do,” Skordas said. “I’m running because we need somebody in that office that will pay attention to what Utah voters and what Utah citizens want.”

The Forum spoke with Skordas in an exclusive interview, discussing what his goals and priorities would be if elected. You can also listen to the fourth episode of the Behind The Ballot podcast series on Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud.

Below is a written transcript of the full interview with Skordas with editor-in-chief Cami Mondeaux. Answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity. 

Greg Skordas, the Democratic candidate for Utah’s attorney general, said he felt compelled to run for office after feeling “disappointed” in the office over the last three administrations. Skordas will face incumbent Sean Reyes (R-UT) on the November ballot. (Cami Mondeaux)

FULL INTERVIEW

CAMI MONDEAUX: I know that some people have been reporting and saying that the attorney general’s race isn’t getting as much attention this year just because of the open governor’s seat, but there’s still quite a bit of action going on.

As you prepare to face incumbent Sean Reyes, who has held the seat since 2013. It’s kind of been a bit of a more contentious race a little bit more so before the primaries, but I was really interested in hearing what prompted you to run for office.

GREG SKORDAS: So, years ago I worked at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which is sort of the county’s equivalent to the attorney general’s office. I was a prosecutor there for eight years and I was actually the administrator of that office. 

My last year there I was what was called a chief deputy. So I really came to love public service, believe it or not, I really did. And I left there, I went into private practice, sort of thinking I would never go back into public service. 

But I’ve really been disappointed with some things that have happened in the attorney general’s office. And I don’t mean just under the current administration but under the last three administrations. 

There’s a culture there, that the legal community — we call it pay-for-play — where individuals who are taking advantage of Utah consumers who are really thieves, in large respect can avoid scrutiny of that office, simply by making large campaign contributions. 

That’s just offensive to me. That’s really problematic to me. 

Another thing that happened that got me into it: Because I mean, I’ve been very happy with my private practice. I’ve never had any intention of going back into public service, but Utah voters in 2018 passed three ballot initiatives. 

Propositions two, three and four. And the reason why voters pass ballot initiatives is because the legislature is not doing something that the people want them to do. Without really going deeply into all three of them, I’ll just point to one: Proposition 3, which was to expand Medicaid in Utah.

It wasn’t to socialize medicine, as a lot of Republicans have tried to paint the Democrats. It was a voter initiative. It was bipartisan, it wasn’t a Republican or Democratic thing. 

But it would have allowed for an additional 100,000 Utahns to have some level of medical insurance. The legislature has done nothing in years to help that along, and our attorney general has actually done worse.

He’s joined a lawsuit with several other attorneys general throughout the country to do away with the Affordable Care Act. To have it declared unconstitutional. 

Meaning, not only would we not have coverage to those people, but we would take healthcare coverage away from tens of thousands of Utahns. At a time when there’s a pandemic, when we need health insurance more than we probably have ever needed it in this country. 

I just can’t sit back and say, “Oh, that’s really bad. We shouldn’t do that.”

I’m running because we need somebody in that office that will pay attention to what Utah voters and what Utah citizens want.

CM: You mentioned the past three administrations kind of doing the same dealings and donations. It almost feels like the office can be prone to some of those bad decisions like you mentioned. So how would you ensure that you wouldn’t fall entrapped in those kinds of things?

GS: It’s actually systemic in our whole political system. Utah needs to change our campaign finance laws. 

You know, there’s two things that will shock you: One, for a race like mine — and it’s not just the Attorney General’s but for other races — there are no limits. If somebody came into my office tomorrow and said, “Greg, here’s $200,000,” I can take it. 

And two — this is the weirdest thing — if I don’t spend it on the campaign, I can stick it in my pocket. 

That’s just weird. On national campaigns, they’re very strict on what you can do, what you can pay and how much you can be involved in — and even some local campaigns like the county and the cities. 

They’re very limited. But statewide office is not like that at all. For example, if I donate money to a person who’s running for Congress, I think it’s like $2,500, or $3,500 is the maximum per cycle. Like, before the convention, before the primary, before the general. 

You can have two or three cycles. But that’s it. But in some of these races, it’s unlimited. That has fostered people — our attorney general has received $51,000 from a “renewable energy company.”

Now what the attorney general has to do with renewable energy, I don’t know. But this renewable energy company wasn’t promoting renewable energy. They were calling railroad cars extensively for a beast full of diesel fuel through our state. 

And when somebody finally opened one of them up, they were full of water. They built Utah taxpayers out of $500 million in tax credits. $500 million.

They were not prosecuted by the state because they donated $51,000 to the Attorney General’s reelection campaign. 

Now, the federal government doesn’t allow that. The federal government indicted them, five of them are currently in federal prison. But they never suffered any scrutiny by the state. 

I can give you 20 examples of people just like that who gave a boatload of money to the attorney general — this administration [and] prior to — who probably could or should be in prison.

And the Attorney Generals look the other way because they’re getting these huge sums of money. So I haven’t answered your question very well, but we need to stop that. 

We need to say campaign finance has to be very regulated, and it has to be very limited in how much a person can donate.

Health care

CM: On your website, you mentioned that as attorney general, you’d fight as the people’s lawyer and you’d pinpoint three specific areas which was protecting consumers, the environment and healthcare. 

And so the environment and healthcare are actually two of the top issues among college students, especially the ones I talked to before doing this interview. So I want to see exactly how you would prioritize two of those things: healthcare and the environment if you were elected.

GS: That’s a good question. Healthcare is what I talked about at the beginning to make sure that Utah’s Proposition 3 is enacted and say, “Okay, Utah voters have said more Utahns need to have health care. So let’s figure out how to do that.”

The legislature said, “Well, it was underfunded.” It was funded by a 15 cent per $100 tax increase. In other words, 0.15% tax increase. You go spend $100 at the store, you’re going to spend an extra 15 cents before you leave in taxes to help this. 

The legislature said, “It’s not enough money.”

So instead of enacting what the voters wanted, they did nothing. So maybe it should be 18 cents, you know maybe it should be 20 cents. Let’s figure out how to do it. 

Instead of suing the administration to do away with the Affordable Care Act, because a lot of the far right don’t like the Affordable Care Act — and I understand that. But we need some level of health insurance. 

Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, let’s say, “Okay, if you don’t like the Affordable Care Act, rather than just sue, and do away with it, let’s propose an alternative.”

Let’s talk about what does work. How are we going to keep 100,000 Utahns insured tomorrow that are not insured today? Especially young people like you, there’s not health insurance readily available. 

I mean, it’s great for me. I have a law firm, all my employees have health insurance. I can afford that. I pay for it for all my employees. I always have and I always will. 

But that’s not available to everyone else and people who have children who have disabilities, even children who reach a certain age and aren’t necessarily available for insurance under their parents’ current coverage can get a different level of coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

So let’s just figure out how to do it. 

Environment

GS: The second question you had was about the environment. That’s near and dear to me. But again, it’s another issue that maybe separates the right from the left a little bit. 

I’m a hiker, I’m a biker. I’m a mountain biker, I have a broken leg right this second from a mountain bike ride on the 24th of July, but I enjoy the outdoors. I’ve enjoyed it my whole life. 

I also have children about your age, and I have grandchildren. If we don’t do something about the environment, my grandkids, your kids won’t have the ability to go do the things I do. 

I’ve worked on the National Ski Patrol for 35 years. I worked at Park City for 30 years and I just spent my fifth year at Powder Mountain. Our seasons are not anything like they were 35 years ago. 

Our snowpack is nowhere near where it was 35 years ago. We used to be open on Halloween, we were always open to Thanksgiving. Last year, we barely opened by Christmas. 

That’s just one sign of the fact that we’re not taking care of our environment. We’re in a horrific drought right now in Utah, a horrible drought. Nobody seems to care that the situation is going to get so much worse. 

We don’t recycle. We don’t pay attention to the environment. We set aside tens of thousands of acres of national land several years ago through the Clinton Administration: Escalante. To the Obama administration: Bears Ears.

And the new administration came in and wiped out huge parts of both of that. Okay, if you’ve ever been to Arches, if you’ve ever hiked Arches, imagine an oil well down there. Imagine hiking, turning around the corner and seeing an oil well. 

I mean, sure, we need oil. But we need other ways to heat our homes. We need other ways to run our cars. We need other ways to be able to do the things that we like to do: turn on our computers and do the things we like to do.

We should put so much more emphasis on that before it’s too late. And by the way, we’re almost at the tipping point now where it will be too late and our children, our grandchildren, will never forgive us. 

And I don’t ever want to be in that position to be saying “Well, we wish we would have done something earlier.’ So yeah, it’s time to do something about that.

Racial justice, police reform

CM: Then moving into another issue that a lot of college students are very open about right now is the Black Lives Matter movement and police reform racial justice. And so across the country in some states, the state attorney generals have been outspoken on the federal response, you know, sending federal troops into some states, some saying that shouldn’t be done. 

I was curious what your thoughts were on the widespread protests. How you would, if at all, represent the protesters [and] that kind of thing?

GS: So my answer might surprise you a little bit. And let me preface it by saying this: One of the things that I do, in the spirit of full disclosure, is I represent two of the largest police unions in the state. 

I’m an attorney and I get called out by police officers when they’re involved in officer-involved shootings, and I’ve done that for 30 years. I’m an attorney for the police. 

So I’ll never say, “Defund the police.” But I’ll surprise a lot of people by saying we need police reform. I’ve been teaching around the state on police groups and civic groups and minority groups on what police reform looks like. 

And I think there’s a real way to do that that makes a lot of sense. And I know your question was about the protests.

I wrote an article that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune a couple weeks ago that got some flack from both sides where I said, “Maybe some of these violent protests we should have seen coming. Maybe this was a slap in the face that we all need.” 

I mean, I don’t advocate for violent protests, not at all. But I marched with the BLM group — the public defenders had a BLM March and I was proud to be there. I stood with police when they said, “Greg, come talk to us about where this is headed. What does police reform look like?”

And there’s a way to do that. 

But I mean, I don’t support what’s going on when I drive by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s offices to see windows broken out and spray paint all over. My law office is literally on 3rd East right where cars were tipped over, [near the] Salt Lake police department. 

That kind of thing bothered me. I was like everybody else watching TV thinking, this is not good. But as I sat and thought about it more, I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is just society’s sort of wake up call.’

And maybe if we can do something now, we can prevent those protests from getting worse or from [happening] more often. And we’ll all understand that Black lives matter. That police reform is something we need to think about. 

That we need to make sure that our police officers can treat everyone that they stop in a vehicle or on the street the same, notwithstanding the color of their skin and police officers, by the way, want to do that.

It’s just something systemic in all of us. We just have some inherent racism. Anybody who says they don’t is not telling the truth. 

But I think if we do more training with police officers, we incorporate some more diversity in our law enforcement community, and in our legal community and on our court system and on our probation officers and on our judges. 

Top to bottom, that’ll make a difference. And the communities that feel like they’re underrepresented right now will feel more like they’re included.

CM: Just because I don’t know, I don’t know if anybody else listening may know, but does the attorney general have a lot to do with that police reform? If you were elected, would you have a big part in that kind of reform?

GS: I think the attorney general can do something that we’re not currently doing and that is sit down with the legislature and say, “Look, here’s where we should go. Here’s how laws should be. Here’s how we can do that.”

So that it’s constitutional, so that it’s legal, so that it’s fundable. That’s something we can all afford, and propose legislation that makes sense. 

I’m looking at what other states are doing. And they’re saying, “Okay, every officer should now have a body cam. Every officer should have a dashcam.” That’s a great idea. 

But you can’t afford that for every police officer in rural Utah. Those departments don’t have that kind of money. But I think the attorney general can say, “Look, this is something that has to be done that will avoid lawsuits down the road. That will avoid huge expenses down the road. Let’s spend a nickel now and save $1 a year from now.”

Let’s fund a police agency so that we do have these materials, these resources that are available to us. 

So I mean, the attorney general is the attorney for the people. But also, I think should represent the law enforcement community. 

Civic groups should really sit down with the legislature and say, “Here’s where we’re going in this country. Here’s how the law should be. Here’s how to protect the citizens. Here’s how to avoid violent protests in the future.”

There are no police agencies in Utah that support chokeholds for example. I mean, some national groups do, that’s not a problem in Utah.

But that’s just one example of — that’s a lot that should be done away with. We don’t have it in Utah, but maybe we can talk about other things like the dash cams, like the body cams, like some of the other things that I’ve talked about.

And have police be more responsive. A police officer who continues to violate the law, violate policies, [make it a] little easier for that officer to be disciplined or reprimanded. 

And again, I told you I represent police unions. They’re very powerful. And it’s almost impossible to get rid of a bad police officer. Just as it’s hard to get rid of a bad lawyer or a bad teacher. But when some people do things that are inappropriate, we should be able to get them away from people where they can continue to cause harm.

Why college students should vote

CM: Just as a final question, kind of wrapping up, a closing statement on final sentiments on why this particular race matters and why college students — and even just the general public of Utah — should be paying attention and should vote in this race.

GS: Yeah, and you drew on that earlier Cami, and it was a good question. Because you said we’re kind of a race that’s not really looked at. 

Utah has not had very much balance. We haven’t had a statewide Democrat elected in the state since 1996. That’s the last time a statewide Democrat was elected. 

And what’s happened as a result of that is that we have a supermajority that there is no checks and balances. We are in the position we’re in right now in Utah, like I said, with campaign problems and with the fact that voters could pass a ballot initiative and the legislature can say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

That just shouldn’t happen. So this is one of the races that I think is important because it’s a way to create some balance. It’s a way to say, “Okay, maybe it’s okay to have a Democrat here or there. Maybe it’s okay to have some balance. Maybe it’s okay to keep the legislature honest. Maybe it’s okay to keep the governor on his toes and create some balance.”

So that when we have a Republican president come in, for example, who wants to do away with our public lands — somebody stands in the way and says, “Wait a minute, that’s not what the Utah voters want to have happen.”

So, I mean, we really need some balance. And I think I bring that. I’m not some far-left, take your guns away, socialize medicine.

I keep getting pigeonholed into those sort of areas because it’s an easy thing to do. I’ve been a Utahn all my life. I share Utah values, I think that I represent the values of most Utahns. 

And I think that most Utahns feel like there should be some balance. And this is a year when we can do that.

CM: Thank you so much, again, for joining me, talking with me and answering all these questions. I really appreciate it. I’m sure everybody who listens also appreciates it. 

GS: Thanks for doing this. It was fine. You guys are great. And I love your school. So thanks so much.

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Cami Mondeaux
Cami Mondeaux is a senior communication major with a minor in sociology. Passionate about journalism, Cami has worked in the field for three years – completing internships at KSL NewsRadio, KUER 90.1 NPR Utah and The Washington Diplomat in Washington, D.C. She now covers breaking news for KSL NewsRadio with a focus on the 2020 election. Cami is excited to bring her skills to The Forum for her second year as editor-in-chief.

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