Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Miscalculation

 "Come in, come in!"  Mark Shurtleff waves me into his home enthusiastically as I stand on his front stoop in 2001. Shurtleff is the newly elected Attorney General of the state of Utah, and I remember sitting comfortably in his living room after an interview about his hopeful agenda as AG, chatting with ease about a variety of topics.

Shurtleff, who was in the process of rounding out his staff, was oddly open about whom he was considering for positions.  He asked me about a former colleague of mine, Paul Murphy.  Shurtleff was considering him for his PR boss.  "I  don't think you could do much better than Paul," I told the new Attorney General.  Two weeks later Murphy (not because of my endorsement I'm sure) was on staff in the AG's office.

That friendliness highlighted Shurtleff tenure, I recall once, being rounded into duty during my day off. The governor was making a major, unexpected announcement at the state capitol, so I hustled up to the hill in a blue sports coat and, self-consciously, a pair of casual sandals.  While the governor spoke, Shurtleff ambled up to me, "Those sandals really go nicely with that coat," he joked.  "They compliment my eyes," I  retorted,  Shurtleff laughed and jabbed me with his elbow and marched off.

The most powerful man in Utah law enforcement, isn't particularly imposing, despite his sizable frame. Shurtleff is easily 6'6" perhaps 220 pounds, but he carries his girth rather awkwardly, like a newly born fawn, struggling to find it's gate, probably because of a badly injured knee that has required countless surgeries over the years, but it is not Shurtleff's knee that has on occasion caused his public missteps.

Shurtleff's chin out approach made the AG susceptible to public pratfalls, like the time he accidentally Tweeted his intention of running for the US Senate.

I remember wondering about his judgement after I stumbled upon this Youtube video of the Attorney General on stage at a pep rally for local, Multi-level marketing company, Usana.  Shurtleff was an enthusiastic shill for the elixir company, and I thought it seemed like a blatantly odd place for the Attorney general to be, so  I cross-reverenced the health food manufacturer against a list of Shurleff's donors, only to find they had given Shurtleff a sizable pile of cash.

At the time Paul Murphy, the man whom I had enthusiastically endorsed for Shurtleff's PR job, was exceedingly angry with me after the story ran, but I knew it was an important headline, and went to the attorney general's decision making.

More than bad Judgement seems to be at the center of the expansive investigation involving the former AG and his protege, John Swallow, who followed Shurtleff as Attorney General, only to resign recently.  Investigators have uncovered a breathtaking list of issues.  State Senator Todd Weiler, who sat in a committee meeting with dozens of other lawmakers, told me there were "audible gasps," as investigators unraveled a laundry list of alleged schemes, dirty politicking, and questionable money handling by Shurtleff and Swallow.


The jolly, deliberately goofy Shurtleff seems like an unlikely candidate for the role of political villian. He lacks the dark-hearted scowl of a Richard Nixon, and his gentle eyes are more like a Golden Retriever's, than those of crooked Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.  The AG's sunny, self-deprecating humor reminds you of your the friendly accountant who lives next door, not the back-slapping political intimidater, LBJ, or the icy, calculated ambition of a man like Joe Kennedy.
Shurtleff never seemed calculating at all, actually the opposite, but in the end, particularly if the former AG faces charges, perhaps a little calculating is exactly what Shurtleff needed. 


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