Utah Republican ‘purity test’ proposal not gaining many fans on Capitol Hill

Three leading state Republican officeholders tell UtahPolicy.com they don’t like the idea of a Utah Republican Party that can kick out people or conduct “purity tests” on who can and who can’t be a Republican here.

This Saturday, in a special meeting of the state GOP’s Central Committee – the 180-member body that runs the party – a bylaw change will be considered that would, if adopted, say the party itself will keep membership lists and decide who can and can’t be a party member.

That’s not historically how the Utah Republican Party has operated.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, the titular head of the party in Utah, in answer to a UtahPolicy.com question at his monthly KUED TV Channel 7 press conference, said that he wants more inclusion in the party, not less.

He said he didn’t like the idea of any party group determining “purity” of a member.

“I don’t like the idea” of calling anyone a RINO – Republican In Name Only.

That tends to narrow the party down into a group of “pure” right-wing elitist, said the governor.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told UtahPolicy.com that he hopes the Central Committee will “weigh heavily” any bylaw changes that tended to weaken the party.

And “purity tests” would weaken the party, he believes. “Would I pass” a purity test? “I think so; I hope so,” said Hughes with a smile.

Anyone who agrees with the state GOP platform should be able to themselves decide to join the party, he added.

“We should not be insulating ourselves. We should be expanding our party,” and all try to elect good Republicans to office, said Hughes.

Meanwhile, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he doesn’t like the idea of the Central Committee making such an important decision as to who should be allowed into the party.

Niederhauser said he believes “the rank and file” Republicans – that is, the 650,000 Utahns who already self-identify themselves as Republicans by registering as such with county election clerks – should decide if there should be “purity tests” or some other kind of qualifications to be an official Republican in Utah.

“All Republicans should decide that, not the Central Committee,” he said.

Perhaps such a straw poll could be taken in the March GOP neighborhood caucus meetings, Niederhauser suggested.

The bylaw change before the Central Committee on Saturday, if passed, “is a big change in the party,” said Niederhauser, who as president of the Senate is a member of the State Central Committee.

To bring any further division into the party – which has been struggling financially for years over its legal costs in fighting – unsuccessfully — SB54 and the dual candidate route to the primary, “is unhealthy,” said Niederhauser.

“A purity test” for Republican Party membership, “could do a lot of harm,” said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal.

Here is a background UtahPolicy.com story on the bylaw to be discussed in Saturday’s Central Committee meeting.

The bylaw by itself does not set up “purity tests” for membership. But it would say that the state party – which is the governing body of the Central Committee – would decide membership lists and would decide who could be a member of the party.