The head of the Utah Republican Party said Wednesday that Salt Lake County GOP chair Chad Bennion shouldn’t have used the term “cop hater” in referring to Democratic Salt Lake County prosecutor Sim Gill.
It was also “unfortunate” that Bennion referred to Gill’s Asian Indian heritage, since Republicans “don’t get a pass” any time they bring up race in a political context.
James Evans, who himself is an African-American raised in the Deep South during the 1960s and 1970s, said Bennion’s comments about Gill come at the wrong time, and were inarticulate.
In short, Bennion’s actions have failed politically and Republicans won’t be talking about Gill in a political context until the 2014 elections.
Should Gill run for re-election next year, then Republican Party officials, as well as others, will discuss Gill’s record as Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor, said Evans.
Bennion was supposed to show up at the Wednesday afternoon press conference with Evans in the downtown Salt Lake City offices of the state GOP.
But Evans said apparently Bennion was with clients and couldn’t make the event.
Evans encouraged the room full of reporters to each contact Bennion to get comments from him – hinting that Bennion has come to realize that he was wrong to speak about Gill in the manner he has over the last two weeks.
Bennion’s cell phone voice mailbox was full; UtahPolicy sent him a text message but didn’t get a call back.
Bennion, and Evans, clearly have been getting some heat from within their own party over Bennion’s comments about Gill, especially in light of Bennion’s own personal and professional conflicts of interests concerning Gill.
You can read about those in a UtahPolicy column here.
Bennion works for the Utah Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police as a member representative. The association sells legal insurance to law enforcement officers, and Bennion often appears as the officer’s defense in administrative hearings.
In addition, Bennion’s family is involved in a domestic dispute that is being prosecuted by Gill’s office.
Gill has dismissed around 125 drug-related arrests by the West Valley City Police Department because of alleged wrongdoing by the now defunct WVC drug enforcement task force.
In addition, Gill recently said, after a nine-month investigation by his office, that two West Valley police officers’ shooting and killing of an unarmed woman believed to be taking part in a drug deal was “unjustified.”
Gill’s office is still looking at filing charges against the two cops, one of whom is represented by Bennion and the FOP.
Wednesday Evans said:
— He couldn’t apologize for Bennion’s use of the words “cop hater” in referencing Gill, nor could he say that Bennion was wrong in referring to Gill’s upbringing in India and any mistrust Gill may have of the police because of that.
Evans said he himself wouldn’t have used the words “cop hater” and wouldn’t have commented on race, calling both incidents unfortunate.
— Bennion’s attempt to bring up legitimate issues about Gill’s actions as Salt Lake County attorney in effect backfired because instead of Gill’s actions becoming an issue, Bennion’s became the issue.
That is never good politics nor effective politics, said Evans.
— Now is not the time to even be discussing Gill’s actions in a political context. Gill’s record is incomplete. It will be up to the GOP Salt Lake County attorney candidate(s) to bring up Gill’s record during the 2012 election cycle.
— Evans wouldn’t have used state GOP member lists to help organize a pro-WVC police, anti-Gill rally.
“I wouldn’t have done that,” Evans said in response to a reporter’s question of whether it was politically smart or correct for Bennion to have supported a rally in that manner two weeks ago.
The rally turned ugly when relatives and supporters of the slain woman showed up and got in a shouting match with off-duty police officers outside of Gill’s offices.
— Finally, Evans said, the specific issue of the WVC cops’ shooting and killing the young woman and the dropped drug cases are issues best left now to the police and legal communities.
Evans read from the state party’s platform on national security and law enforcement to show that Republicans in general support police and their work.
A UtahPolicy/KSL survey of key Republicans and Democrats across the state, published Monday on UtahPolicy.com, found that 70 percent of the “insider” Republicans participating in the weekly poll believe Bennion should apologize for his “cop hater” comments about Gill.
In speaking with a number of Republicans over the last few days, Evans said it was “overwhelmingly” believed that “the term cop hater was unfortunate and different language should have been used.”
Evans said he waited to comment on the Gill/Bennion dust-up in part because last week he was back at RNC meetings in Washington, D.C., and upon return wanted to educate himself and “digest” the issues.
“Then I decided to make a statement,” said Evans.
Evans said it is always a “50-50 call” whether to hold a press conference before the media on sensitive political issues because as often as not the media don’t give an accurate reflection of the issue.
That just comes with being a Republican, added Evans, who was elected state GOP chairman in last spring’s Republican state convention.
Evans is a former chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party and former GOP state senator.
Statewide, Republicans have been the dominant party in Utah coming up on 40 years. But that is not the case in Salt Lake County.
Besides Gill, the county mayor is a Democrat, Ben McAdams. And while Republicans hold a bare majority on the County Council today, two years ago Democrats controlled that body, as well.
President Barack Obama was pounded in Salt Lake County last election; but in 2008 he actually carried the county in a close vote.
So it is a challenging task for Republicans to win offices in the county. And it will be Bennion’s job to organize that effort next year.
There’s been some speculation that Bennion came out so hard on Gill because Republicans fear they could lose the attorney general’s office in 2016 (or in 2014) because of the current scandal swirling around GOP AG John Swallow.
If Swallow is forced or removed from office before the 2014 elections, the GOP AG appointed to take his place would be up for election next year.
And Republicans don’t want Gill to be a viable Democratic choice.
But Evans said Gill is welcome to run for attorney general whenever he wishes, and the Republicans will hold that statewide elected office no matter what.