Bob Bernick’s notebook: The mainstream fights back

Some “mainstream” GOP delegates are preparing to fight back against what they perceive as inappropriate and disruptive actions by a minority of the party’s State Central Committee.

Fights are brewing in several GOP county conventions held this week.

But the big showdown will be at the state Republican Convention to be held not this Saturday, but next Saturday (April 21) in the Maverik Center in West Valley City.

It is shaping up to be a really crazy, and long, convention day – a meeting of the new 4,500 state delegates that could drag into the evening, or as long as there is a quorum of delegates present.

This Saturday, in the Davis County GOP Convention, there is a resolution that – if adopted by county delegates – would strip state Central Committee membership from 13 Davis County Republicans who have consistently opposed state chairman Rob Anderson.

The “Gang of 13,” as the resolution calls them, have helped call “illegal” special state CC meetings, where various state party bylaws have been changed by as few as 38 percent of the overall state CC membership.

(It should be noted that the 51 state CC members who have called the “special” meetings have tried to follow current bylaws allowing for such meetings, although Anderson himself has said at least one of the meetings was held against party rules.)

At the state convention, delegates will be asked to remove all of the 51 members who have been battling Anderson and other leaders.

If delegates don’t want to go that far – an outright purge — other resolutions would put term limits on at-large state Central Committee members.

One resolution calls for a term limit of 10 years on the CC, while another calls for a four-year limit.

Many of the “disruptive” state CC members would be removed from the Central Committee under either term limit resolution.

In any case, some party insiders are saying this upcoming state convention will be a real battle for the soul of the state GOP – a time for delegates to purge party leadership of anti-SB54, anti-establishment Republican Party bosses who want to remove Anderson as chair and take over the party leadership themselves.

Phill Wright of Davis County is seen as the leader of the disaffected group – a man kicked out of Davis Party GOP leadership several years ago and whom Anderson beat for state chairman a year ago at the state party’s organizing convention.

Wright is also running for the Utah House this year, challenging mainstream GOP Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, in House District 19.

Ward has taken the legal SB54 signature route and has been certified as getting the required 1,000 GOP voter signatures, guaranteeing him a place on the late-June primary ballot.

Ward is also going to the convention. Wright is taking only the convention route, so he needs to get the bare minimum of delegate support Saturday, or he will be out of the race.

Regardless of how many delegate votes Ward gets, he will go to the primary via signatures.

It is that dual route for candidates sanctioned by the 2014 SB54 legislative compromise that’s at the heart of all this bitterness, special CC meetings, anger at Anderson et al.

Will there be a house cleaning by county and state delegates of the anti-SB54 Central Committee members?

Will the Utah Republican Party be allowed to heal internal wounds, and step away from the self-destructive infighting that nearly bankrupted the state party?

County and state conventions over the next two weeks may well be critical to that healing process.

Anderson notes that 51 percent of the 4,500 state delegates are new for the April 21 convention.

Many, no doubt, are supporters of Mitt Romney, who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat.

Romney, who advances to the June primary via signatures, doesn’t have to win in the convention.

According to the suggested convention agenda, the delegate vote in the U.S. Senate race will come early in the day’s proceedings.

Will Romney delegates stick around for the no-doubt ugly and drawn out late afternoon debate over new bylaws and resolutions – aimed at diminishing the influence of the “Area 51” hardliners?

The Utah rank-and-file Republicans – 58 percent of whom support SB54 and the reformed Count My Vote citizen initiative petition — who are tired of the party infighting can only hope so.

Either way, some Utah GOP delegates are looking to blunt the power of the vocal minority Central Committee members.

And the party’s health could well depend upon these upcoming votes.