Evans May Not Draw a Challenger in GOP Chair Election

A few months ago it looked like state GOP Chairman James Evans was probably going to see a challenger, maybe several, in his re-election this summer.

But with just one day remaining before the party officer candidate filing deadline only Evans has put his name in the hat.

You can see the candidates for party office here.

Evans is being joined in the vice chair election by his friend and supporter Rick Votaw – whom Evans wanted to be his vice chair when that position came open last year, only to see another fellow picked by the state GOP Central Committee.

Votaw has been a big cash donor to the state GOP over the last several years, and Evans appointed him to a special advisory post after Votaw lost the vice chairmanship race before the Central Committee.

Now a former Davis County GOP leader and reformer is challenging Votaw.

In any case, when the 4,000 Republican state delegates meet in convention Aug. 15 it may well be that Evans won’t have a challenger for the chairmanship – or will have someone challenge him who really can’t win the race — something a number of political observers wouldn’t have guessed just weeks ago.

UtahPolicy wrote a story several months ago saying former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist was considering a run at Evans.

Liljenquist, who ran against U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch several years ago, has not returned repeated UtahPolicy calls for comment over the last several days. But sources now tell UtahPolicy that Liljenquist is not going to run for party chair.

Evans got on the wrong side of some Republican “mainstreamers” – as they like to be called – last year when he started a concerted effort opposing SB54.

That is the new law pushed through the 2014 Legislature as a compromise to Count My Vote.

The CMV was a bipartisan effort to get on the 2014 ballot a citizen initiative petition that would have done away with political parties’ selecting their nominees in the state GOP convention.

For years, state delegates have had a major say in who appears on the primary and general election ballots under the party banner.

Under current rules in both the Republican and Democratic parties if a candidate gets more than 60 percent of the delegate vote in the convention, he or she is the party’s nominee for that office.

There is no primary election; the person goes directly to the general election ballot.

If no one gets more than 60 percent, then the top two-vote-getters advance to the party primary – closed in the GOP, open in the Democratic Party.

Voter turnout has been tragically low in Utah in recent years, especially in party primary elections – which are held in late June.

CMV backers claimed that moving all candidates to a party primary would increase voter interest, increase voter turnout, and provide better all around government.

But GOP leaders, who refused to back the SB54 compromise, have opposed CMV and the new candidate nomination law from the outset.

Evans, under the direction of his Central Committee – about 180 elected party stalwarts – filed a federal lawsuit against SB54 in December.

During the 2015 Legislature Evans tried to get his own GOP legislators to change SB54. But the Republicans held tight and refused.

Evans maintained in the lawsuit, and in public for over a year, that the state GOP couldn’t comply with some provisions of SB54 this year, and so ran the risk of not having ANY candidates on the 2016 ballot under the Republican Party banner.

Failing to get a stay order on SB54 from the federal judge, facing a possible challenge to his chairmanship re-election, and intensifying pressure from GOP officeholders, Evans and the Central Committee did an about-face recently, deciding to comply with SB54 and become a “Qualified Political Party” under the new law.

If the Aug. 15 state delegates agree, then the state GOP next year will be able to vote on candidates who choose the SB54 route through the convention, or the petition route bypassing the convention, or chose both routes at the same time.

In a smart political move, Evans also got his predecessor – Thomas Wright – to take over fundraising for the party.

And Evans got Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and House Speaker Greg Hughes to help in party fundraising, as well – thus winning his re-election endorsements from those party insiders.

The deadline for party delegates to submit proposed changes to party bylaws and the constitution is 5 pm Thursday.

After then we’ll know if there will be an attempt in the Aug. 15 convention to boot from party membership any candidate who chooses to get on the party primary ballot via the SB54-allowed petition gathering route.

There has been talk of such at attempt to keep candidate selection solely inside the delegate convention.

But other leading Republicans tell UtahPolicy that SB54 is tightly written, and one of the restrictions of being a “Qualified Political Party” is that the candidate petition route must be maintained.

After midnight Thursday we’ll also know if anyone will be challenging Evans for a two-year chairmanship term.