While delegates in some Wasatch Front Republican Party county conventions may have to guess which candidates for their State Central Committee slots are Gang of 51 members and which seek to put the internal party strife behind them, not so in this Saturday’s Davis County Convention.
There is a “slate” of 11 candidates are running together under the slogan: “Republicans Building Bridges” – with the aim of getting on the Utah Republican Party’s Central Committee to stop internal fights that have seriously hamstrung party fundraising and general candidate support.
UtahPolicy.com has reported previously about the overall effort by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican leaders in the state House and Senate, among others, to recruit folks to run for the party’s 187-member governing body, the State Central Committee.
Around 100 at-large SCC members will be picked in county GOP conventions during April.
The Davis and Salt Lake county GOP conventions are this week-end, with a combined 43 SCC slots up for grabs. The chair and vice-chair of each county party automatically are on the SCC, and some of them are Gang of 51 supporters, some are not, further complicating the internal party politicking.
Overall, there are 37 candidates running for 14 SCC at-large slots from Davis County.
The so-called “Gang of 51,” who may have shrunk to nearer 30 as their antics have become better known over the last year, have made life miserable for GOP state chair Rob Anderson, who is not running for re-election in the May 5 state convention.
But the Gang’s nominal leader, former state vice-chair Phill Wright is. He is being challenged by former Utah House GOP member Derek Brown, who is supported by Herbert et al., including Brown’s former boss, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Wright lost the party chairmanship’s race two years ago to Anderson.
Wright’s home-base is Davis County, where he was county chair several years ago. But now some of his SCC fellow Gang members are being challenged by others, including the 11 candidates who have banded together under the “building bridges” slogan, seeking some of the 14 at-large slots the Davis County GOP gets on the SCC.
Coincidently, UtahPolicy has been given a list of the original Gang of 51 members who signed a “special meeting” letter in December of 2017 that started the open war inside the state Republican Party, and challenges to Anderson’s leadership.
And there are nine of those Gang members from Davis County running for re-election to the SCC this Saturday.
If some of those Gang members are knocked out of the SCC, and some of the “building bridges” are selected, then it likely will be easier to bring the SCC together, the thinking goes by those who want to end the SB54 internal GOP strife.
Since the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the compromise SB54 in 2014, the state party has suffered politically and financially.
The Utah Republican Party sued the state over SB54, objecting to the dual candidate pathway provision that lets candidates pick for themselves whether they gather voter signatures to get on the primary ballot, take the traditional delegate/convention route, or take both routes at the same time.
In running up more than $400,000 in legal fees, the party lost before the Utah Supreme Court, two federal court decisions, in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and, in March, the U.S. Supreme Court.
CEO of software-building Entrata, Dave Bateman, with approval of the SCC, took over the party’s legal debts, settled with the attorneys for just over $200,000. This past week, Bateman said in a Facebook post that he releases the state party from all legal debt he took over.
Thus, perhaps, giving Wright a better shot at winning the chairmanship May 5.
Wright works for Bateman at Entrata, and Wright oversaw the Bateman-financed Keep My Voice effort last year that kept the Count My Vote pro-SB54 citizen initiative petition off of the 2018 ballot.
There are a lot of political wheels within wheels and personality stuff going on here, admittedly.
But the key to it all, as far as the state Republican Party is concerned, are the at-large SCC member elections taking place this April in most of the county GOP conventions.
UtahPolicy.com is told Herbert has personally promised to “become engaged” in internal state party operations, in fundraising and in candidate support.
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, wrote a letter to his GOP Senate colleagues asking them to run for the State Central Committee themselves or to find friends or family who will.
Likewise, efforts are being made in the Utah House among GOP members to get “consensus-minded” members on the SCC.
In Davis County, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, whom Wright ran against in a 2018 GOP primary in House District 19, but lost, tells UtahPolicy he has been encouraging peace-making candidates to file and run for the 14 Davis County at-large SCC seats.
UtahPolicy has been told by several sources that the aim is NOT to vote Gang of 51 members off the SCC, but to get pro-peace candidates – if that term can be used – on the SCC so the fight over SB54 can finally end.
However, in Davis County this Saturday, if there are nine Gang of 51 SCC members running for re-election and at least 11 “peace-making” candidates running for the 14 SCC slots, something has to give.