Republicans threaten to oust Anderson as Utah GOP Chairman if he drops SB54 lawsuit

There’s a possible coup brewing in the Utah Republican Party. Some members of the Republican State Central Committee are warning Chairman Rob Anderson if he decides on his own to end the party’s lawsuit against SB54, they’ll try to remove him as head of the party.

Anderson shared a certified letter he received, signed by 53 members of the State Central Committee, that asserted the SCC’s sole ability to make policy for the party. The letter ominously said, “We will exercise our right of remedy against the will of the State Central Committee regarding matters within its powers as described in the Party’s Constitution.”

When asked if he saw the letter as a threat to his chairmanship, Anderson asked bluntly “How would you read it?”

Anderson is mulling taking action to end the GOP’s lawsuit against the SB54 compromise, which established a secondary path to the ballot outside of the traditional caucus/convention route. The lawsuit has racked up more than $300,000 in debt for the party, which has led to longtime financial problems. 

Last weekend, the GOP SCC was scheduled to vote on whether to drop or continue the lawsuit, but they adjourned before a decision could be made. Anderson has asserted he has unilateral authority to decide to end or continue the lawsuit, and said in a letter to party members on Thursday he had “inquired of this to other legal counsel, and have been advised of a concurring legal opinion.” 

However, hardliners in the GOP say the previous decision by the SCC, to continue with the lawsuit, stands without action to move in another direction.

“It’s an interesting thing,” said Anderson by phone on Thursday afternoon. “I don’t think they (the upset members of the central committee) really want to admit that I do have the power to do that. I haven’t told anyone what I’m planning to do, and that puts them on edge.”

The 53 SCC members who signed the letter to Anderson include some of the most ardent hard-liners in the party, including Chris Herrod who lost the August GOP primary election in the 3rd Congressional District to John Curtis, who used the signature gathering route to secure his spot on the ballot.

Anderson is warning party members that continuing the lawsuit will increase the party’s debt and make it more likely that CMV will refile their ballot initiative to completely do away with the caucus/convention route to the ballot. 

“The lawsuit is basically poking CMV in the eye with a sharp stick, and it’s one of the reasons they’ve been looking at the options to re-file their initiative,” said Anderson.

On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert said he would veto any attempt by the Republican controlled legislature to repeal the SB54 compromise. The House voted to do away with the dual-path to the ballot in the waning hours of the 2017 session, but that attempt stalled in the Senate. It’s clear that sentiment among lawmakers has turned against the 2014 law.

Herbert also said during his monthly KUED press conference he didn’t think Anderson should end the lawsuit because an appeals court has set oral arguments in the party’s appeal of a lower court ruling against them. He feels it’s probably best to let the appeals court rule and then let the party decide where to go from there.

Anderson disagrees, with that saying time is of the essence, but he stresses he has not yet made a final decision.

“Time is a luxury we do not have,” he stressed. “A legal challenge can draw on for years and years; they’re not solved overnight. We should be spending our time doing things that strengthen the party and elect Republicans.”