Normally, an election to fill one of a state political party’s minor offices, like vice-chair, doesn’t get much attention from the media or party members.
Not this year, however, where the race for the open state Republican Party vice-chair is buzzing on social media and GOP insider websites. Joni Crane resigned her vice-chair post because she’s seeking a public office in eastern Utah.
The race, to be decided in the May 19 meeting of the State Central Committee, has drawn 23 candidates – a lot considering party vice chair is a non-paid, volunteer position.
UtahPolicy.com talked to half a dozen GOP insiders to get a feel for who the candidates are – promising anonymity because of the toxic atmosphere inside the state party right now.
What’s interesting is that many of the candidates are not known at all among these party insiders – whether that is a good or bad thing yet to be determined.
One of the main questions asked is whether the candidate may be a supporter of the so-called Gang of 51 – state Central Committee members who are at loggerheads with beleaguered party chairman Rob Anderson.
The Gang of 51 has called two “special” CC meetings over the past few months – where bylaw changes were presented or passed that put the state party at odds with the SB54 candidate dual-pathway law.
In one instance, Anderson and GOP Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox – the state’s election officer — both decided not to recognize an “illegal” bylaw change, in part because it could have put at risk the party’s status under SB54 and risked having GOP candidates removed from primary and general election ballots in this important mid-term year.
Here’s a list of the candidates and what UtahPolicy heard about each of them:
James Evans – former GOP state chair.
Evans may be a front-runner for the vice-chair slot. But in his four years as party chair, he oversaw the party going into significant debt fighting SB54 in the courts.
However, he’s seen as a guy who can work with both sides of the Gang of 51 battles, UtahPolicy was told.
He lost his chairmanship to Anderson last spring, finishing third behind Phill Wright, Evans then-vice chair, and Gang of 51 leader.
Spencer Hall – (Correction: Several of our sources said this Spencer Hall is the friend of Lt. Gov. Cox – and does a podcast with Cox. But now we’re told this is a different Spencer Hall – and apparently, this vice-chair candidate Spencer Hall is unknown to the UPD sources in the GOP.)
Kera Birkeland – likely 51 supporter.
A Morgan County GOP chair, Birkeland got national attention when at the 2016 national GOP convention she said she was put upon by Trump supporters in the women’s restroom.
Birkeland reportedly signed one of the Gang of 51 “special” CC meetings letters to call a Central Committee meeting.
Roderick Threats – not a 51 supporter.
Threats ran for a Salt Lake County Council seat this year but was eliminated in the county GOP convention. Seen as an up-and-comer in the party.
Karece Thompson – not a 51 supporter.
A conservative who sits on the Clearfield City Council.
L.G. Wallace – not a 51 supporter.
Crystal Hovey – likely a 51 supporter. Former vice-chair of the Tooele County GOP.
J. Michael Isom – not a 51 supporter.
Michael Griffith – not a 51 supporter.
Chadwick Fairbanks – ran for U.S. House District 1 this year and was eliminated at the state convention. Unknown if a 51 supporter or not.
The following candidates were not known by the party insiders UtahPolicy spoke with:
Tony Graf Jr.
Wade Marshall Miller.
James Austin Duke.
Tamee Roberts Burkholder.
Jeff Allen, former Salt Lake County Councilmember.
Besides voting on the vice-chair replacement in the May 19 Central Committee meeting, the members will be asked to adopt a handful of important bylaw changes – several sponsored by Gang of 51 advocates.