Democrats tap Merchant as new party chairman

Jeff Merchant 01Utah Democrats opted to take a new path heading into the 2020 election by ousting their current party chair at the state convention in Park City.

Despite several candidates in the race, the contest for the party’s chairmanship essentially boiled down to current chair Daisy Thomas and challenger Jeff Merchant. Supporters for both candidates launched broadsides at their opponents on social media in the days leading up to the election. Several delegates said it was one of the nastiest campaigns for party chair they could remember.

Merchant triumphed on the first ballot, ending Thomas’ bid for a second two-year term leading Utah’s minority party.

“We’ve got 500 days before the next election, and in that election, we’re going to pick up seats,” said Merchant shortly after his win.

“The way that we’re going to do that is by raising money the right way, by using that money the right way and by supporting people the right way.”

Merchant said he would not take a salary as party chair because of debt issues that have hamstrung the organization.

“There’s no reason for me to take any money while we are in debt like this.”

Merchant said current party executive director Alex Cragun would remain on staff “in the short term,” but said he plans to launch a nationwide search to fill that position.

Thomas’ tenure leading the party was often rocky, with allegations of financial mismanagement surfaced, along with a protracted battle over a claim of sexual impropriety against one of her 2017 opponents Rob Miller. The party’s executive committee recently voted to strip Thomas’ pay during the remainder of her term.

Saturday’s election could be crucial for the party. Democrats have made some gains in recent years, picking up Utah’s 4th Congressional District and increasing their numbers in the Utah legislature. However, with a seemingly resurgent Republican party, and a pledge to raise $1 million dollars for the 2020 election from chair Derek Brown, the future could be difficult for the state’s minority party.

Delegates at the convention also passed a resolution calling for the restoration of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, which were rescinded and then reduced by President Donald Trump in 2017.