State GOP chairman James Evans believes Iron County Republicans need to step up and end the “clear” violation of party rules as county Chair Blake Cozzens challenges incumbent District 72 Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City.
Evans says while county parties have significant autonomy under the state GOP constitution, that doesn’t mean the state GOP is powerless in the Cozzens issue.
“We certify candidates to the primary ballot,” Evans told UtahPolicy this week.
And that means the state party could decide to put Westwood on the House District 72 primary ballot – should Cozzens 60-percent him in this weekend’s Iron County GOP convention — or could keep Cozzens off the primary ballot should both men win a spot.
Evans isn’t threatening such action (which likely would have to be taken by the state GOP Central Committee in any case).
But the power is there, Evans says.
“I don’t think anything like that has ever been done before” by state GOP leaders, Evans said.
“The only way we have” to deal with the Cozzens issue at the state level “is that the state party submits the names” for all GOP primary candidates to the state elections office – Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
“It appears that Blake is going to ignore our letter” sent to the Iron County GOP leaders by Evans a week ago.
“This is an old story – when greed gets in the way, it clouds judgment,” said Evans of Cozzens’ actions.
Historically, if a party leader decides to run for an office, he or she resigns their party post.
Party bylaws say a chair can’t take sides in any intra-party battle – and certainly a county chair challenging a sitting GOP officeholder is taking sides, says Evans.
But Cozzens – who couldn’t be reached for this story – has said he is not taking sides just by challenging Westwood.
Westwood vote for SB54, the “grand compromise” bill that ended the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition by putting into state law a dual track route for candidate nominations.
Come 2016 a candidate can either go through the current caucus/delegate/convention process; can gather a set number of voter signatures and make his party’s open primary ballot; or can take both routes at the same time.
Cozzens is strongly against SB54, believes it should be repealed, and last year co-founded a citizen group opposing CMV.
Cozzens says he has turned over all county convention duties to his deputies – the vice chair, treasurer and secretary – and that no conflicts of interest are present.
But, notes Evans, in response to a recent UtahPolicy story, Cozzens commented on that story that the county party convention is important, and that he, Cozzens, has worked hard to make it succeed.
“If that is so, how is it not a clear conflict” by being active in planning the convention where he will be voted on? says Evans. Won’t the convention fail if Cozzens is not in charge? Evans asks rhetorically.
“Hopefully the delegates” in House District 72 “sort it all out down there,” said Evans.
Also this year former GOP state Sen. Casey Anderson is challenging Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City. That vote will take place in the state GOP convention, since their Senate district is multi-county.
Evans notes that Anderson was the county chair before Cozzens.
When Anderson ran for the Senate office he resigned his chairmanship – as it should be, said Evans.
“Casey and Blake are the same political bent,” said Evans, in that they hold strong conservative views. Casey, however, did what was right, said Evans.
Evans says Cozzens has said that the Iron County Republican Party could fall apart without him, that none of the other county GOP officers are prepared to step up into the chairmanship.
“If that’s the situation in the county party, then Blake should focus on the party needs and not run for office now,” said Evans.
The 154 county delegates in House 72 will vote on Westwood and Cozzens in this Saturday’s convention.
Depending on what happens in the convention, then the state GOP may take some kind of action on its own, if Evans recommends it and the state Central Committee decides to act.