Why former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is backing a new candidate for AG after appointing Sean Reyes

Nov 20, 2023, 9:27 PM | Updated: Nov 21, 2023, 11:26 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The race for attorney general may still be a year away but it’s already heating up.

Former Utah Republican Party Chair Derek Brown is the first contender to say he’s exploring a run, and his effort is being led by former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

Former Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown considering run against Attorney General Sean Reyes

The move is seen as by political insiders a significant step in drumming up support for Brown. It was Herbert who appointed current Attorney General Sean Reyes to office 11 years ago. So why is he now backing another candidate who could replace him?

Herbert said the move is less about what Reyes has done, or is accused of doing, and more about what Brown can bring to the seat.

“This is more about, I believe in Derek has a good man who’s got good legal experience and a good experience of managing an office.”

Term limits

Herbert says he’s a big believer in term limits, and after 11 years in office he believes it’s time for a change.

“I do believe that Sean Reyes was the right guy at the right time when I appointed him. And now we’ve had the 10 or 11 years go by. And so the question now, is he still the right guy?”

Herbert was asked if he regrets his decision to appoint Reyes.

“Not at all,” he said “Again, as I’ve said, he was the right guy at the right time.”

Brown’s experience

Herbert touted that Brown’s experience working for “a couple of prestigious law firms,” his time in Washington, D.C. with Sen. Mike Lee and his time as the chairman of the Republican party.

Reyes has recently faced questions over his friendship with Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard who is accused in multiple sexual assault lawsuits.

Utah AG Sean Reyes releases statement on allegations of sexual misconduct against Tim Ballard

Reyes also faces a state audit with two dozen lawmakers demanding to know whether that relationship impacted his impartiality or involved any state resources.

One of those lawsuits also accused Reyes of witness tampering, which Reyes has denied.

“I think there’s always some question marks out there. I think we’re all confused and puzzled,” Herbert said.

The support is significant

Local political analysts like Taylor Morgan believe Herbert backing Brown is significant.

“If I’m former Gov. Gary Herbert, I’m not happy with how Sean Reyes has acted in this office. It’s a poor reflection, and frankly, an embarrassment on the legacy of former Gov. Gary Herbert that is otherwise sterling,” Morgan said.

Reyes’ longtime campaign manager Alan Crooks provided a statement from Reyes via text.

“Derek has been a friend for years. He is an honorable man, if he decides to officially get into the race…I wish him the best,” Reyes said.

Brown is just the first to dip his toe in this race, others, Morgan believes, are likely to jump in too.

“I do think that this will be a crowded field,” Morgan said. “Anytime you have a sitting office holder that gets into trouble with these accusations, the alleged misbehavior of Sean Reyes, he’s seen as being very, very vulnerable.”

Candidates must officially file with the state in January.

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Why former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is backing a new candidate for AG after appointing Sean Reyes