Debt and intra-party battles. Utah GOP Chair Rob Anderson reflects on his first year in office

Rob Anderson stepped into the mess that was the Utah GOP almost one year ago. During that time he reduced the party’s operating debt from nearly $100,000 to about $20,000. He also has battled with members of his own party over what path they should take moving forward.

Anderson says when he started running for the party chairmanship in 2017, he had no idea just how bad things had gotten financially for Utah’s dominant political organization.

“I started my campaign and people are calling me behind the scenes to tell me it’s worse than what is being reported,”he says. “When I won, I walked into a very daunting situation. The rent on the office was overdue by two months, the employees were barely getting paid. The electric and Comcast bill were overdue, then I get $64,000 worth of convention debts to pay on top of all that. It hit me like a ton of bricks.”

The party has been whittling down the operational debt, which is separate from the legal debt they’ve incurred during their mostly unsuccessful fight challenging the SB54 compromise, which established Utah’s hybrid nomination system. That debt has been “acquired” by Entrata CEO Dave Bateman, who reportedly settled the $410,000 debt for $175,000.

Anderson says they hope to have the remaining operational debt paid off sometime this summer. Gov. Gary Herbert will host another fundraiser for the party this summer.

Anderson’s first year in office has also been marked by an ongoing battle with a small group of hardliners on the party’s central committee. They’ve clashed over party rules and the GOP’s ongoing lawsuit against the state’s dual-path nomination system. The irony does not escape Anderson that the leader of this group, Phill Wright, is one of the men he beat last year to win the chairmanship.

“They need a flagpole to rally around, and I’m that flagpole they’re using to keep their movement alive,” he laughs.

Anderson says one of the reasons this group dislikes him is he cast doubt on their plans to get a measure on the 2018 ballot to repeal the signature-gathering path to the primary ballot for candidates.

“I told them they would need to spend a million dollars to get that done because their support base is so small and the number of signatures they need is huge,” says Anderson. Not for nothing, the Keep My Vote ballot initiative failed miserably this year as organizers submitted zero signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Anderson hopes to put the debt and animosity behind him to start helping Republicans get elected up and down the ballot in Utah. As he looks at the 2018 electoral landscape, he doesn’t see too many races that should worry Republicans, but he is wary of the Mia Love/Ben McAdams race in Utah’s 4th CD. He says if McAdams wins, he could become a headache for the GOP.

“If McAdams wins that seat, he becomes a big political player in Utah. Where does it stop then? Does he run for governor or Senate?” says Anderson. “I think we need to keep that seat to stop him from moving forward in politics. I want to kick him in the shins.”

Listen to the podcast of our conversation with Anderson here.