As Don Henley sang, "Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down."
Republicans are itchy to turn the Justin Miller/Ben McAdams scandal into something on the same scale of the John Swallow affair.
I don't want to be accused of downplaying the gravity of the situation Rep. Miller finds himself in. Accused of embezzling $30,000 in campaign funds from McAdams, he is certainly in a tough spot.
It's not a story that McAdams wants to be attached at all. His squeaky-clean reputation is tarnished a bit because of an alleged (by Miller) quid pro quo arrangement involving county contracts.
But to say this rises to the same level as the John Swallow fiasco is just wishful thinking by Republicans who are tired of being on the wrong side of scandal town.
I get it. It's not fun to be linked to the Swallow mess, and former Sen. Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack's DUI fiasco and Kevin Garn's naked teenage hot tub party. Those are embarrassing and have certainly taken some of the glitter off the Republican brand in this state. The list goes on and on.
Nearly all of these "scandals" were criminal acts that ended with the guilty party being punished (mostly). Garn and Killpack resigned their seats. Swallow is under indictment.
There are some Democratic scandals here and there. Remember the late Dee Dee Corradini got caught up in the Bonneville Pacific mess during her second term in office.
I suspect there are two things at play.
First, Republicans seek to elevate the Miller transgressions (remember, he hasn't been charged with anything) to the same level as Swallow because they want to play tit for tat in the scandal game. That happens a lot in politics these days. You're desperate to show the other side is just as awful as your bad actors. How many times have we heard the phrase "Obama's Katrina" as conservative pundits try to elevate the awfulness of a perceived scandal attributed to the president. Of course, we haven't seen anything rise to that level, but that's not for want of trying.
Second, Republicans see an opportunity to throw some rust on one of the few rising stars for Utah Democrats, Mayor Ben McAdams. One Republican consultant lamented to me before all this hit that McAdams was going to be "a pain in their ass" for a very long time. McAdams is probably going to run for Salt Lake County Mayor again in 2016. There's a hope this little political tremor shakes loose some more information that might be damaging to McAdams.
It reminds me of Rep. Patrice Arent's run for a second term in the Utah House in 1998. She was an up and comer in the Democratic Party, having served as an Assistant Attorney General under Jan Graham. There were fears among Republicans that she was destined for higher office, so they were hoping to stop her political career before it got started. "Cut the head off the snake" was a phrase I heard from more than one member of the Utah GOP during the 1998 campaign, which she won.
Some think this whole brouhaha should lead to more investigations, ala the Swallow inquisition. That's a far-fetched fantasy. The Swallow affair changed the course of a statewide election, affected the outcome of a legislative seat, involved shady campaign finance practices and "pay for play" in the Attorney General's office. This is a simple case of alleged felony theft.
It's not hard to understand why Republicans are hoping this blows up into something more, and are trying to nudge it in that direction. There are so few Democrats in Utah, a scandal involving one of them only comes along every so often. You have to savor it when it does.
There is a danger for Democrats. The party has remained silent on this whole issue when they were leading the charge against Swallow. Every second they remain mute, they lose a little more of the "good government" moral high ground they got from the Swallow kerfuffle. It is notable that Sen. Todd Weiler, who was at the forefront of calling for Swallow to resign from the AG's office, is now calling for Miller to step down.
Miller hasn't been charged with anything yet but given what we know about the story right now it seems that won't be the case for long. If charges are filed, I suspect his resignation will follow in short order. If not, this could get quite messy. And a mess is the last thing Democrats want to have to clean up, especially if it's made by one of their own.