The laws of nature say for every action, there is a reaction.
And with the Utah Republican Party in internal strife, which is stopping adequate fundraising and achieving goals of actually electing more Republicans to office, what may be termed as “the adults in the room” are reacting.
UtahPolicy.com is told that there is a coordinated effort by Gov. Gary Herbert and GOP leaders in the Legislature, along with former party chairs and others who have had, at one time or another, impacts on how the state party is run, to put forward slates of candidates, if you will, in the major Republican Party county conventions to get some new, committed folks on the state party’s Central Committee.
Many of the State Central Committee members are picked in off-year county organizing conventions by county delegates — and those county conventions are meeting this month before the early May state GOP convention.
It is said that this effort is not aimed at getting any current Central Committee members off of the 187-member party governing board. “We are not targeting anyone,” said one GOP source.
But the fact remains, there is the so-called Gang of 51 — a group of right-winger, anti-SB54 diehards — on the Central Committee who have basically made current state party chair Rob Anderson’s life miserable. They even conducted an “investigation” of Anderson over the recent months and at the last Central Committee voted to censure him for a previous alleged transgression.
Anderson is not running for a second, two-year term for chairman at the May 4 state GOP organizing committee. He says a new chairman must bring the party organization together.
And the “adults in the room” are backing former Utah House GOP member and Sen. Mike Lee deputy chief of staff Derek Brown for the chairman’s position. Lee has been a darling of the GOP’s right wing and county and state delegates in the past — seen as plus for Brown.
Brown will face former state party vice-chairman Phill Wright, the so-called nominal leader of the Gang of 51, for the top party post.
If Wright wins, UtahPolicy.com is told by various current GOP officeholders, the party may be “lost” for the next two years, if not beyond.
Said one GOP source in the Utah Legislature, “With a new chairman coming into the party, there is a coordinated effort to find (Central Committee members) who are committed to the process and to the party, to help bring the party back not only to financial stability, but to return to the core party goals of getting good Republicans elected, to help our candidates. To get away from these internal party politics.”
That, despite Anderson’s attempts, has not been done recently.
With the party strapped for money — many of the traditional donors won’t give because they actually support SB54’s dual candidate pathway law, which the Gang of 51 has fought in the courts, bankrupting the state party — GOP legislative candidates, for example, have been giving to the party, not the other way around, during the election season.
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, says he recently discovered that he is guaranteed a slot on the State Central Committee due to his position as head of the Senate. Earlier this week he sent a letter to his Senate colleagues urging them to run and join him on the committee.
“I plan to take an active role and do everything I can to provide leadership to the party,” he wrote. “The party needs our help, it’s a desperate situation and changes are needed.”
When reached for comment on Thursday, Adams said the “desperate situation” is strictly financial, as big donors have abandoned the party because of the ongoing internal fight over the dual path nomination system which allows candidates to gather signatures.
“I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that the party has been struggling financially,” said Adams. We need to reignite the donor base around the party.”
It’s an understatement to say the Utah GOP is having financial troubles. Many big donors abandoned the party over the legal effort to overturn Utah’s law allowing candidates to gather signatures to get on the ballot, bypassing the convention nomination route. The court fight nearly bankrupted the party before tech entrepreneur Dave Bateman stepped forward to acquire the party’s debt and fund the legal effort which ended last month when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling.
A source inside the party with knowledge says it’s not for sure right now that the party will be able to afford to put on next month’s state convention at Utah Valley University.
“We’ve got approximately $10,000 in the bank and $100,000 debt. The convention will cost us $50,000. We can afford to rent the venue right now, but we can’t afford clickers for voting, we can’t afford the stage, we can’t pay for the sound system,” they said.
Adams says the effort to recruit new members of the central committee is not aimed at ousting dissident members who have made life difficult for Anderson, but to build bridges between the two warring factions and move the Utah GOP forward.
“I’m a big supporter of the caucus and convention system. We all want what’s best for the party,” he said. “I admire those who have worked inside of the party who have worked on both sides of the issue. I want everyone to come to the table. Both sides feel like they’ve been left out, and both want to be heard.”
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, sent an email to his Senate colleagues last month bemoaning the conduct of some of the current members of the State Central Committee and urging them to find a way to make the party more inclusive.
“I was embarassed by the conduct of many of the approximately 100 delegates at the State Central Committee meeting...in Tooele. People would shout out if they disagreed with statements...If you want a viable party with leadership focused on getting the best candidates to run and be successful something basic must change,” he wrote.
UtahPolicy.com is told that in big-population counties — which have a lot of county-elected, State Central Committee member slots — there are efforts to find people to run in the April county conventions who will show up to State Central Committee meetings and push for party unity.
As one state GOP official said: “While there is the Gang of 51, they are only 51 out of 180-plus Central Committee members. If more showed up to (Central Committee) meetings, the votes wouldn’t be there” for taking on Anderson, continuing the anti-SB54 fights and so on.