Republican party brawl takes over Utah GOP convention

After more than three hours of sometimes frustrating debate – with “yeahs” and “boos” shouted from the delegates and onlookers joining in – a majority of the 3,600 or so state Republican delegates voting in convention Saturday decided not to intervene in the ongoing battles inside the party’s Central Committee.

The so-called Gang of 51, in essence, got a vote of confidence among the delegates – at least that is the ultimate outcome.

Any attempts to term limit some of the long-term state Central Committee members failed.

Even the way a minority of CC members (called the Gang of 51) can call a “special” meeting (only 40 out of 180 members needed) where mischief has been done, will continue.

So, for now, unless more members of the CC show up at future “special” committee meetings, those opposed to party chairman Rob Anderson and other party leaders will continue to have their way.

The internal battle set the tone for Saturday’s meeting in the Maverik Center in West Valley City – at times feisty or disturbing, depending on your point of view.

Anderson decided to have former U.S. Rep. and party chairwoman and national committeewoman Enid Greene Mickelsen conduct the most controversial part of the meeting – the battle over the bylaw and constitutional changes.

In the end, delegates gave her a hand of appreciation – but only after booing and cheering her at times.

Delegates voted to strike from the agenda any debate over changes to bylaws and the constitution that would allow for the so-called troublemakers to be removed from their Central Committee positions, which will end after the 2019 convention.

That state Central Committee debate will be postponed to the 2019 party organization convention. Or not.

It takes a two-thirds vote to change a party bylaw or constitution passage.

So, clearly, the two-thirds to adopt the Gang of 51-punishing proposed changes Saturday did not exist – since a delegate majority voted to dump the bylaw discussion entirely, 2,218 to 1,242.

“If more” of the Central Committee members “don’t show up (at meetings), this group” – the Gang of 51 – “will continue to run amok,” Anderson said in a UtahPolicy interview after the vote not to even discuss the changes.

Anderson said he would try to work with all the party leaders – one of the resolutions not considered would have demanded he does so.

“I am a collaborator, not a self-promoter,” said Anderson. “I’ll still stand by trying to make the right decisions.”

Anderson said he would not resign his post, as some of the Gang of 51 have demanded. “It’s nose to the wheel and get the job done,” he said.

However, the party is still around $20,000 in debt. (When Anderson took over a year ago, the Utah GOP was bouncing checks around the Salt Lake Valley.)

And while GOP Gov. Gary Herbert will conduct a party fundraiser later this summer, it is still clear some of the old-guard, big-money donors have not come back into the party activities.

Here are some of the odd things at the state Republican Convention Saturday, or some stuff that didn’t happen, and the absence is noteworthy:

— U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, got a much larger positive reception from the convention than did U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is attending his last convention, since he is retiring.

— Hatch, as polls by Dan Jones & Associates show, has had unfortunate approval ratings over the last year or so.

— Hatch, looking a bit frail and his voice cracking, gave a short speech after a celebratory video that showed Hatch with various GOP leaders, including Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, praising him.

Many Hatch’s accomplishments over the last 42 years in office were listed. Not listed was, perhaps, one of his greatest achievements – passage of CHIP health care for poor children.

CHIP is much disliked by a number of archconservatives in Utah.

— Usually, the speakers at the GOP convention attack the Democrats, but in early speakers by the chairman Anderson, the governor, lieutenant governor and federal delegation, only one person mentioned the Democrats.

Most of the talk was about Republicans coming together.

— Lee asked delegates to support the caucus/delegate/convention system, much to the loud cheers of the delegates.

— GOP Attorney General Sean Reyes did not attend the convention, his video saying he was in D.C. working on a number of issues.

His video listed several of his successful lawsuits defending the state. He did not mention his successful defense of SB54 – the dual-candidate-route that many GOP delegates hate – where he has defeated the state Republican Party twice in federal court, before the Utah Supreme Court, and now before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

—  Mickelsen took over from party chair Anderson to conduct parts of the convention dealing with rules, agendas, and resolutions.

Mickelsen, who does not suffer fools lightly, tried to keep some of the more raucous, Gang of 51-types, in check, but the arguments still dragged on for more than three hours with many delegates or guests shouting at her during the proceedings.

— The Gang of 51-types had hand-held signs and would stand up and hold them high – telling their supporters to vote “yes” or “no” on different motions.

— was also told that during the convention, there were groups emailing the delegates (their emails were public to other delegates) on how to make points of order, or points of information to delay the work of the convention further or how to vote.