Utah GOP picks Rob Anderson as new chair (with video)

There will not be a third term for Utah GOP Chairman James Evans as Republican delegates gave the current party leader the heave-ho on the first ballot Saturday.

In fact, Utah GOP delegates rejected the hardline candidates in the races for party chair and vice-chair, perhaps signaling an ever so slight move to the center for Utah’s dominant political party.

Davis County GOP Chairman Rob Anderson won the race to lead the party for the next two years, defeating both Evans and current vice-chair Phill Wright in two rounds of voting.

Evans pulled just 20.02% of the vote in the first round while delegates sent current party vice-chair Phill Wright and Davis County GOP chair Rob Anderson to a second ballot, where Anderson prevailed by just 268 votes.

Just over half of the 4,000 delegates showed up to Saturday’s meeting, a paltry turnout given the Republican Party’s dominance in Utah.

Evans’ pitch to delegates, that his leadership over the past four years deserved another two years in charge, fell on deaf ears.

“You measure a leader by how they conduct themselves,” said Evans during his speech. That also applies to the ballooning party debt under Evans’ leadership, which may have just been too much for Evans to overcome.

Anderson’s campaign centered around fiscal responsibility and transparency as he promised to conduct an audit of the party finances and release those numbers within 30 days of taking office.

“No one can give a proper accounting,” said Anderson. “I will give a full and complete accounting of party fund and make it publicly available.”

After his stunning win, Anderson acknowledged he has a lot of work ahead of him.

“I made a lot of promises. Fiscal integrity is one of them. I think I won on the promise of change, so we need to look forward to what the party should be doing instead of reacting.”

Indeed, change was in the air on Saturday as the more hard-line candidates were unable to win over delegates. Current vice-chair Phill Wright, an arch conservative, lost to Anderson in his bid to lead the party, and Don Guymon, another arch-conservative, lost to Joni Crane in the race for vice-chair.

Anderson took some hits from his opponents who characterized him as an enemy of the caucus/convention system, something Anderson vehemently denied.

“A lot of the fear was that I was trying to get rid of the caucus and convention system. That’s not true. I want to make it better, I want to make it more inclusive, and I want to improve it,” he said.

But, Anderson has been critical of the multiple lawsuits filed by the party against SB54, the compromise crafted by the legislature in 2014 that ended up preserving the caucus/convention system, and the $300,000 of debt racked up by the party as a result of those lawsuits.

While he says whether to continue those lawsuits is ultimately up to the state central committee, Anderson hopes to work closely with the GOP majority in the legislature to change the law.

“Chances of lawsuit succeeding versus the cost we’ve incurred is not the right way to go. We need to go back to our legislators who are overwhelmingly Republican.”

After his ouster, Evans was gracious when he addressed the convention for a final time.

“In campaigns things get rough,” he said. “I’m urging you to unite behind Rob Anderson and get great Republicans elected.”

Anderson understands the job ahead of him is a difficult one as he must bring reluctant donors back to the party, soothe hurt feelings from those who did not support him and work with elected officials.

“I didn’t win with an overwhelming majority, so there are a lot of hearts and minds to win over. “