Libertarian AG candidate in race to 'pull pillars out' from Utah establishment

Chris Rizo Apr. 7, 2008, 9:00am


SALT LAKE CITY - In political parlance, Salt Lake City attorney W. Andrew McCullough would be considered a nuisance candidate, running as a third-party nominee with virtually no chance of winning in the solidly Republican state.

The 59-year-old Libertarian and First Amendment lawyer, whose made a decent living from representing the Beehive State's strip joints, porno shops and massage parlors, concedes that he has no chance of unseating Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, a 50-year-old popular Republican.

"The mainstream politicians who represent the mainstream parties have an image to uphold, and I don't have an interest in that," he told LegalNewsLine. "What I would like my public image to be is somebody who fights for the underdog, believes in free speech, who doesn't want the government infringing on our rights and isn't easily embarrassed by things."

McCullough is in the race, he said wryly, not expecting to win - although that would be a bonus, he said - but instead to highlight a bevy of issues he said are either being ignored or sidestepped by Shurtleff and his Democratic challenger.

"What I hope to accomplish is to change the debate and get the issues talked about differently and to remind people that freedom is tremendously important, and we're letting our government take some of it from us," said McCullough, who four years ago won 28,202 votes, or more than 3 percent support in the AG race.

By comparison, Shurtleff was elected to a second term in 2004 with 68 percent support in a state that President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican, carried with 71 percent of the vote.

In a lengthy telephone from his campaign and law office above Doctor John's Lingerie Boutique, McCullough said he decided to make another run for attorney general to provide voters with an alternative view to government.

"I am straight as an arrow in my personal life, but I have this irresistible impulse to pull the pillars out from under the establishment; it's what gets me up in the morning," he said. "If I didn't have the establishment to irritate, I probably wouldn't get up in the morning."

McCullough, who said he cut his political teeth by working on Barry Goldwater's 1964 Republican presidential campaign, said he stands for limited government and wants to bring that principle to the attorney general's office.

"I perceive the attorney general's office a little smaller, a little kinder hearted," McCullough said. "The government just doesn't have any business telling me or anyone else what we can and can't do in our personal lives," added McCullough, a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.

On the role of protecting consumers, McCullough said like most Libertarians, he believes that a free market should regulate itself, noting that there are already legions of private attorneys in the state to pursue product liability cases.

"But there are times and places where the state should get involved to protect the state as a whole," McCullough said, noting that he would be active in finding ways to reduce environmental pollution.

He said Shurtleff, like many politicians in Utah, is too cozy with the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. McCullough claims that relationship has affected Shurtleff's policies on such things as pornography and gay rights.

"In Utah, there tends to be a blurring of the lines between the Republican Party and the LDS church," he said. "The church has declared their non-involvement in politics many times but in many people's minds: You go to church on Sunday, you bring up your family in God's way and you vote Republican."

McCullough, who claims he is not a practicing Mormon, said jokingly that he might not have fallen from the church after graduating from Brigham Young University (BYU) if he had not gone to law school at the University of Utah (UU). He said people at BYU referred to UU as the "Godless university" to the north.

He added that he drifted from the Mormon Church about the same time as he drifted from the Republican Party.

"They are just too intertwined," he said.

Also vying to unseat Shurtleff as Utah's chief law enforcement officer is Democrat Jean Welch Hill.

Hill is a longtime attorney for the Utah State Board of Education, whom was stripped of the title of special assistant to the attorney general last year by Shurtleff over her legal recommendation to schools not to implement a voucher system for Utah's schools.

She told The Salt Lake City Tribune last month that she was challenging Shurtleff because she wants the attorney general's office to consider issues more fully.

"What the top lawyer needs to do is listen to both sides," she was quoted as saying. "They need to make decisions based on the legalities, not what a political party wants."

As for their chances come November, McCullough said he has as good of a chance of winning the general election as Hill does.

"And she doesn't have a snowball's chance in a hotplate," McCullough said matter-of-factly.

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