GOP state chairman Thomas Wright on Tuesday released his much anticipated report on the unfortunate circumstances surrounding accusations and speeches made at the April 21 state party convention in the 2nd Congressional District race.
Wright told UtahPolicy that he will suggest several party bylaw/convention operation changes because of the incident, including perhaps stopping first-round speeches in multi-candidate races and/or some kind of candidate vetting by delegates themselves to keep non-serious candidates from addressing the convention at all.
Just two of the rumors Wright’s inquiry dispelled:
-- 2nd District candidate Milton Hanks, who basically caused this whole convention mess, was not a “stalking horse” or a “plant” for the Chris Stewart campaign.
-- The Stewart campaign’s quick response on the anonymous anti-Stewart delegate letter was good organization work, and the campaign didn’t know about the anti-Stewart letter beforehand.
Wright spent more than a week and, clearly, a lot of time interviewing the 10 2nd District candidates and a number of delegates and others that wanted input into the chairman’s report.
Long story made short: Wright didn’t find any underhanded dealings, no plots nor on-purpose “dirty tricks” by the candidates or members of their campaign staffs.
That doesn’t mean that Wright didn’t find fault.
In the report and in an UtahPolicy interview, Wright basically said that while 2nd District candidate Hanks – who made accusations from the podium in the first-round speeches against several other 2nd District candidates – may have honestly believed what he was saying, he didn’t have any real evidence to back up his (false) clams and shouldn’t have said what he did.
And the state party official overseeing those first round speeches and first round voting should have cut Hanks’ mike off as Hanks began to slam the other candidates by name.
That wasn’t done, said Wright, and it should have been.
It’s unfortunate if Hanks’ accusations had real impacts on the 2nd District voting.
But if they did, there’s nothing to be done about it now.
As UtahPolicy readers know, Stewart went on to barely beat out former House Speaker Dave Clark in the final round of voting by more than 60 percent, thus eliminating Clark in the convention.
Stewart has been certified as the Utah Republican Party’s 2nd District nominee. There will be no primary in that race – which has been reported previously.
You can read Wright’s extensive report below.
As you can see from reading the report there are links to other documents, like the anti-Stewart letter that was sent out to some of the 1,000 state GOP 2nd District delegates just before the April 21 convention.
(FYI on the letter – from various UtahPolicy interviews, it appears that maybe 30 to 50 letters were actually received by delegates, more than the half dozen reported earlier in other Utah media.)
Stewart issued the following statement Wednesday:
“I am grateful to chairman Wright and his staff for the work they performed in compiling this report. After a thorough review, my campaign staff and I are satisfied with the results. We are now looking forward to the general election and if we are successful, going back to Washington, D.C., to fight for the principles that have made our nation great.”
Clark has previously told UtahPolicy that he will support the GOP nominee in the 2nd District, and the Republican nominees in other races.
Of note: It was reported in The Salt Lake Tribune that it appeared fishy that some delegates received the anti-Stewart letter on one day, and Stewart got out to delegates a response just a day later.
Both Wright and a Stewart spokeswoman explained that timing to UtahPolicy.
The letter was delivered to several delegates in the mail one morning. It was brought to the Stewart campaign that same morning.
The campaign staff got organized, printed up responses, hand-stuffed envelopes and delivered the first-class stamped letters to the post office by early afternoon, making the afternoon mailing deadline.
And thus, Wright and the Stewart campaign spokeswoman said, the anti-Stewart letter could been delivered to a delegate, brought to the campaign and the official response received by delegates the next day in the U.S. mail.
“I accept that explanation,” Wright told UtahPolicy. “I specifically asked that question about the timing” of the Stewart campaign’s response letter.
In other words, the quick Stewart campaign response has a viable explanation – and the campaign didn’t have to have had knowledge of, or the actual anti-Stewart letter, before it hit a few delegates’ mailboxes.
“There are a number of actions we could take” to help ensure what happened in the 2nd District at the state GOP convention (detailed in Wright’s report) doesn’t happen again, said Wright.
“First and foremost, we need to do a better job of keeping proper decorum at the conventions,” he said.
Republicans, unfortunately, in recent years have had instances in county and state conventions where delegates, candidates and guests have abused that proper decorum standard, he added.
Secondly, some way should be found to weed out non-serious candidates before they get to speak at the conventions.
One of the complaints against Hanks was that he did not run a serious campaign – didn’t raise much money, didn’t attend most of the 29 county GOP conventions, made little effort to contact delegates – and then in his first-round convention speech didn’t talk about himself but attacked, by name, Clark and several other 2nd District candidates.
Wright said he has a few ideas, but that the issue should be considered by the state party’s governing body, the state Central Committee.
For instance, suggested Wright, if in multi-candidate races there were no speeches before the first round of voting – and if there was a floor of, say, 3 percent support to move to the second round – non-serious candidates could be eliminated without ever getting to address the convention delegates.
Or, said Wright, perhaps a candidate only got to give a pre-voting first round speech if he got a stated number of delegate signatures. That, also, could stop a non-serious candidate from speaking.
The concern, said Wright, is that some people pay the candidate filing fee (or get the fee waived by claiming they are poor) just so they can address the state or county GOP conventions.
They aren’t serious candidates, they just like to get up on a stage and say what they want in front of the media and thousands of delegates for five or six minutes.
“We certainly want to encourage people to run for office” as Republicans, said Wright.
“But it’s getting to the point where we need some kind of vetting by the delegates” of the candidates “prior to letting some people speak.”
Utah GOP Chairman's Inquiry
Wright said that three weeks after Hanks made the allegations in his convention speech against Clark and the other 2nd District candidates – allegations that could have impacted the delegates’ voting – Hanks “still can not substantiate anything that he said.”