The displeased, even angry, group of GOP delegates who drove U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett from office a year ago were present Saturday in a state Republican Party convention that put two of their ilk into party leadership and slapped GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican state legislators over passage of an illegal immigrant guest worker program.
Admittedly, half of the 3,500 state Republican delegates didn’t show up to the day-long meeting in the South Towne Expo Center – so the political impact of the close anti-HB116 vote is questionable.
And GOP chairman Thomas Wright – backed by what some would say are party insiders – was re-elected.
Still, if a similar conclave of Republican delegates are picked next March to decide the 2012 crop of GOP county, state and federal candidates, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and other party stalwarts seeking re-election could be in trouble.
Hatch, who was lectured by a few grumpy Republicans at his convention booth, was not booed Saturday, as he was way back in the 2000 convention, when he addressed delegates.
But Hatch received only polite applause to the cheers and standing ovation given to Sen. Mike Lee, who dispatched Bennett a year ago last month.
And the group Freedom Works paid for a convention hall reception room where large signs read: “Retire Hatch.”
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz passed out more than 2,000 free T-shirts that said: “Jason Chaffetz in 2012.”
But the shirts didn’t say what office Chaffetz – who some say is in the U.S. Senate race next year – would be running for.
High-profile 2012 races aside, it was the shake-up in party leadership that could really rattle the GOP this year and next.
The job of party bosses is to raise money and recruit good candidates, helping them where needed with their campaigns.
But there was little talk of that basic responsibility as Wright defended himself in his challenge by Utah County conservative Dave Duncan and party vice chair Christy Achziger and secretary Dana Dickson were defeated by Lowell Nelson and Drew Chamberlain, respectively.
In fact, the only time tempers really flared Saturday was when Wright walked grim-faced to the podium with Achziger for brief remarks before the second round of vice chair voting.
Referring to Chamberlain, who defeated Dickson in the first round voting, Wright said: “You’ve just voted for a secretary who sued the party.”
Loud shouts and boos ensued.
“Please elect a vice chair I can work with,” yelled Wright over the commotion.
As the heckling continued, convention chair Enid Greene Mickelsen jumped up, grabbed her large gavel, and pounded the podium like she was thrashing former husband Joe Waldholtz’s lying heart.
“You will quit or you will be removed!” Mickelsen yelled back at the yellers.
“Who the hell are you,” screamed back one man who was shushed by his seatmates.
“There will be no heckling now,” she replied.
In fact, Wright’s outburst against Chamberlain -- who some years ago was put in the “dissenters” stocks by GOP leaders, but clearly has redeemed himself – may have cost Achziger her chance in the Nelson run-off.
Twice after Wright’s plea a delegate tried to have a re-vote in the chairman’s race, criticizing Wright’s outburst against Chamberlain.
Mickelsen ruled both attempts out of order. Wright’s election stood.
At the end Wright said he could work with “anyone” – including Nelson and Chamberlain.
“The chairman runs the party,” Wright told UtahPolicy. “The other party officers help, but I will run it.”
Without doubt more intraparty bickering will continue. Mickelsen ruled that Duncan couldn’t introduce a “delegates’ rights” change to the party constitution. But at her request, delegates passed a resolution saying the party’s main governing body, the central committee, shall consider the change at a later date.
Duncan and supporters passed out a flyer at the convention explaining how his “delegates’ rights” amendment could be passed (his parliamentary tactics failed).
But that flyer demonized Dickson, giving a point-by-point blow about how Dickson allegedly co-opted party rules to allow a party subcommittee to review and approve proposed constitutional amendments before any may come to the convention floor.
Most likely that attacked helped Chamberlain defeat Dickson for the secretary post.
“They (Duncan, Nelson and Chamberlain) ran together” as a slate, said Wright, “and we (himself, Achziger and Dickson) ran together. Now we serve” together.
Finally, by a relatively narrow margin, the convention approved a non-binding resolution calling for Herbert and the GOP-controlled Legislature to repeal HB116, the illegal immigrant guest worker program.
While that is clearly a defeat for Herbert, who will face convention delegates in his 2012 re-election bid, and GOP legislative leaders, who all voted for HB116, Saturday’s vote is more symbolic than politically damaging.
Here are a few reasons why:
-- Over the years, a Republican governor and Legislature have done things that party delegates haven’t liked. Little has come of it.
-- Of the 3,500 delegates that could have attended Saturday, only 2,158 were seated. Of those, by the time (3 p.m.) the anti-HB116 resolution was heard, only 1,572 voted on it.
The resolution passed 833-739, a difference of only 94 votes.
So, 24 percent of all the possible delegates voted to repeal HB116.
A Deseret News/KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates found Utah Republicans are split down the middle in either their support of or opposition to HB116.
Thus, the convention vote and the poll show there is no clear mandate among Republicans to repeal the bill.
-- The same pool of delegates who voted Saturday will not be at the 2012 convention. Every two years, on average, between one-third and one-half of delegates either don’t run again or are defeated in their neighborhood March caucus meetings.
-- While it’s true that state delegates will vote on gubernatorial, attorney general and congressional candidates, most legislative candidates are actually voted on in their county GOP conventions.
-- This year the Salt Lake, Utah and Washington county GOP conventions passed anti-HB116 resolutions. Most county conventions either didn’t take it up, or defeated it.
Herbert and GOP legislative leaders at Saturday’s convention told UtahPolicy that HB116 would likely be amended in the 2012 Legislature; while repeal is unlikely.
Herbert said the new law, which doesn’t take effect until July 2013, can be tightened up, strengthened.