Bob Bernick’s notebook: Turning point

Bernick Mug 01

And so we come to it.

A turning point for the Utah Republican Party as a viable, impactful organization for the near future.

Regardless of who wins the party chairmanship in Saturday’s organization convention, Derek Brown or Phill Wright, GOP candidates will continue winning the majority of partisan races in Utah, a very, very red state.

Regardless of who wins Saturday, registered Republicans will outnumber Democrats in this state by five or six to one.

Most Utahns, who are white Mormons, will continue to be Republicans, voting ballot after ballot for the man or woman with the “R” by their name.

So why does it matter at all what the 4,000 state GOP delegates (there may be as few as 2,500 at the Utah Valley University convention) do?

Because if Brown does not win, it’s highly questionable whether the party can right itself.

The state party will continue languishing in financial poverty.

The battle over SB54 all but bankrupted the party.

It still owes $100,000 in unpaid bills – much of it for the 2017 convention. Before current chair Rob Anderson, who is not seeking re-election, won that year the party was bouncing checks around town.

Large donors, including some Republican officeholders with big PAC cash reserves, have shrugged off pleas for money – not wanting to give to a party fighting in court SB54, which these donors actually like and support (even if they don’t say so publicly, fearing the wrath of the party’s right wing torchbearers).

Almost all viable Republican candidates for major office take SB54’s dual pathway – they gather voter signatures and they go to the state GOP nominating convention, facing delegates.

They gather signatures because they don’t want to worry about Tea Party-like delegates who may oust them from the primary, as the delegates did in 2010 to then-U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett.

Many such caucus-fanatics will be delegates Saturday.

They may put their hatred of SB54 above “reasonable” arguments to accept – no matter how grudgingly – the dual pathway law, which has been upheld as constitutional by the Utah Supreme Court (no group of liberals there), two federal court trials, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Most of the steadfast SB54 despisers inside and outside of the party’s Central Committee have refused to make large (or even small) donations to the party itself. Just look at the party’s financial filings over the last few years to see that. They are here.

If elected Saturday, Brown has the chance to raise needed funds. He says he has a plan to raise $1 million-plus over the next two years – or $500,000 a year, where the party used to be in fund raising before the SB54 intraparty squabbles.

But what if Brown loses? What if delegates pick Wright?

You will see, I’m told, many of the “reasonable” party supporters/officeholders just walk away from the party organization. At least for Wright’s two-year term.

Hoping the Wright party won’t do crazy stuff like kicking out of the party signature-gathering candidates, or kicking out of the party rank-and-file Republicans who support SB54 (a majority, polling shows), the “reasonable” Republican candidates will raise their own money, will organization their own campaigns and run their own races.

The local Utah media – called purveyors of “fake news” by some of the SB54-haters – will continue writing stories about trouble in the party ranks – because there will still be trouble in the ranks.

And many grassroots Utah Republicans will continue wondering what in the world is wrong with the party they used to support and believe in.

Saturday, the party comes to a crossroads – as Brown puts it.

Which path to take will be in the hands of the delegates who show up to vote.

Who are supposed to represent the 650,000 registered Republicans in Utah.