Analysis: The Utah GOP takes some baby steps toward the political middle

Have the top echelons of the Utah Republican Party made a turn, more to the middle?


But time will tell.

Former Davis County GOP chairman Rob Anderson – who clearly is to the middle of former vice-chair Phil Wright and former chair James Evans – won the first round of delegate voting Saturday, and then, with 56.5 percent of the vote, was picked to run the state’s major political party the next two years – starting immediately.

Anderson may not have been the overwhelming choice of the delegates. The question is, how will he run the split party over the next two years?

Can he bring some of the pro-SB54, pro-Count My Vote, unhappy Republicans back into the party?

Perhaps Anderson can get some of the former big donors to cut loose their checkbooks – the party saw some of their bills go unpaid, their checks not honored over the last few years.

Thus, in a real stunner, state GOP delegates followed their Utah County brethren and kicked out the current party leaders – Evans and Wright — for a new batch.

Gone is the two-term Evans – who, it was evident Saturday at the South Towne Convention Center — doomed his third-term effort by running the party into short-term and long-term debt.

Under Evans – with the state Central Committee’s orders – the party ran up a $300,000 legal debt in the mostly-failed court fights against SB54.

But beyond that, by some accounts (and there hasn’t been an official public audit in four years) the party reportedly owes $100,000 in operating shortfalls.

In years gone by, some big GOP hitters stepped forward when there was debt, like when Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, gave the party more than $100,000 from his multi-million dollar campaign account.

But Evans didn’t have that kind of backing.

Time and again he pleaded with the rank-and-file – many of them archconservatives – to give $10 to $50 to get the party out of debt.

But they didn’t pony up.

In fact, Evans recently asked the 4,000 state delegates invited to Saturday’s convention to donate $50 each.

That would have raised $200,000.

Instead, just over half of the 4,000 delegates even bothered to show up Saturday – showing the real dissatisfaction with the party’s most involved, grassroots folks. (2,210 were ultimately registered Saturday.)

That is a very poor showing. In some off-year conventions, 75 percent or more of the state delegates have shown up.

State Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, wrote the SB54 compromise law, and he’s been at odds with some state and Utah County party leaders for several years.

A couple of weeks ago at the GOP Utah County Convention, then then-party leaders seeking re-election were kicked out – the chair in the first round.

Same with Evans on Saturday – out in the first round – a stunning upset.

Bramble said it is too early to say the state party will swing to the middle, or at least be more reasonable on SB54 – maybe dropping the appeal before the 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Such changes “are really up to the Central Committee,” Bramble told UtahPolicy just after Evans’ defeat.

“There has been significant change” in the make-up of the Central Committee, said Bramble, following the Utah County and Salt Lake County earlier conventions (where most of the CC is chosen from those large Republican counties.)

The “new” CC has not yet met, said Bramble. But many of the arch-conservative CC members who got the party to switch it’s position on appealing SB54 – from agreeing not to appeal, to appealing once again – are gone, he noted.

Will what happened in the state convention Saturday change some of the harsh anti-SB54 attitudes in the 75-member House (which voted to repeal it in the 2017 Legislature) and the 29-member Senate?

“Yes,” said Bramble, with perhaps a sly smile breaking his face. “I believe Rob can bring the party together, and get it back on firm financial footing.”

But can the new GOP state leadership bring the party back together? Stay tuned.