Social issues, socialism and warnings about a rising threat of Democratic tyranny took center stage at Saturday’s Salt Lake County Republican convention, as elected officials railed against abortion and the “Green New Deal.” Meanwhile, Davis County Republicans dealt a setback to several members of a hardline faction on the party’s state central committee.
Attendance at Saturday’s Salt Lake County Convention was a little more robust than past years as just over 700 Republicans crowded into Cottonwood High School to pick new party leaders and members of Utah GOP’s State Central Committee. In 2018, more than 1400 Republicans attended, which is not a fair comparison because of the midterm elections. In 2017, 695 delegates attended. There are more than 1900 total delegates in the county.
Democrats were able to pry a number of seats away from Republicans in Salt Lake County during the 2018 midterm elections, which caused several of the speakers at the convention to raise the alarm among their fellow Republicans.
“How many people thought Salt Lake County would turn from red to purple and maybe blue?” asked former state party chairman James Evans who chaired Saturday’s convention.
“Liberal ideas are not just taking root in Washington, D.C.,” said County Councilman Richard Snelgrove. “We need to turn back liberals by electing more conservative Republicans in Salt Lake County.”
Taking center stage on Saturday was an effort by some Republicans to wrest control of the Utah GOP’s State Central Committee from a group of hardliners who nearly bankrupted the party due to multiple lawsuits against SB54.
On Saturday morning, all Salt Lake County delegates were emailed a flyer (below) slamming current SCC members who were part of the group pushing the legal challenge to Utah’s dual-path nomination system. All four of the candidates named on the flyer were re-elected to their SCC seats on Saturday.
There were strong gains by the “reasonable” Republicans in Salt Lake County and Davis County GOP conventions on Saturday, reflecting the coordinated effort by leading Republican state officeholders, among others, to blunt a trouble-causing group inside the Utah GOP. One prominent Republican told UtahPolicy.com the hardliners in the party should be labeled “Fundamentalist Utah Republicans” because of their intransigence on the signature gathering issue.
But several of the most well-known so-called Gang of 51 state Republican Party Central Committee members from both counties were returned to the 185-member governing body by their respective county party delegates.
Those Gang of 51 supporters include Fred Cox, Cherilyn Eagar, Don Guymon and Teena Horlacher.
In the Davis County Republican Party – which has been the home base of the Gang of 51 – party chair Horlacher was removed from her party position, Daniela Harding (one of the “reasonable” Republicans) taking over.
Karece Thompson is the new vice chair, perhaps the first time that an African-American is in Davis County GOP leadership.
However, Horlacher was later in the day chosen as a new state Central Committee member – so she remains on the party’s state governing board.
Gone is Drew Chamberlain from the Central Committee, representing Davis County, where he did all kinds of odd things, like tell the state party office lease manager that the state party wanted to move – when in fact the state party didn’t want to move headquarters but later had to.
Gone, too, from Davis County GOP leadership is Phill Wright – who is running for state party chair in the May 4 convention, but didn’t seek re-election to his Davis County Central Committee slot.
If Wright loses the chairmanship race in three weeks, he will be officially out of Republican Party politics in Utah – which would be seen as a big win by the “reasonable” GOP movement.
However, Dave Bateman, CEO of Entrata, who is Wright’s private employment boss and who funded the state party’s troubled legal fights against SB54, is running for the State Central Committee from Utah County, whose convention is April 27.
By one GOP insider’s count, the 16 Davis County Central Committee slots have 11 “reasonable” members – when you include the new county party chair and vice chair, who are definitely not with the Gang of 51.
That means the Gang’s home base party has only five members on the State Central Committee, a real retreat from the current group’s influence – where they had as many as 13 Gang of 51 members (depending on how you counted them) from Davis County previously.
And the Davis County GOP itself is now in the hands of non-Gang of 51 folks for the first time in several years.
Paul Wayman, a Salt Lake County Republican delegate says he sought to get on the GOP ballot for the legislature in 2018 by gathering signatures but was unable to get the needed number. Despite that experience, he’s a supporter of both the caucus/convention system and the signature gathering path.
“If somebody goes around the district trying to gather signatures, you get a pretty good idea about what issues the people in the area care about,” he said. Wayman planned to vote for several of the “reasonable” SCC candidates on Saturday because he felt the committee was too concerned with trying to undo the SB54 compromise instead of solving the problems of the Republican party.
“The Supreme Court has spoken,” he said. “It’s time to give up that fight ad do the job they need to do.”
Todd Landeen, another Salt Lake County Republican delegate in attendance on Saturay is a big supporter of the signature-gathering path for candidates, as well as the convention.
“If you can go get enough signatures of registered Republicans to get on the ballot, why should you be denied?” he asked. “There seems to be a disconnect between what party leadership thinks is important and what the rank-and-file wants.”
Landeen says he’s tired of the infighting on the State Central Committee and is hoping to see some change.
“These guys would make great Federalists,” he joked. “They complain about elites, but their attitude that they know what’s best for the party is just as elitist as those they claim to be fighting.”
Salt Lake County Republicans also re-elected Scott Miller as their chair for the next two years. Joining the leadership team is Scott Rosenbush as vice-chair, Reed Taylor as the party’s secretary and Benjamin Morton as the party’s treasurer.
Before the Salt Lake County elections, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox delivered what sounded suspiciously like a rough draft of a possible stump speech for his expected gubernatorial run 2020.
“Utah has the best economy in the country. I can’t take credit for that, but if I might run for office I might have to,” said Cox. “We have a generation coming up that doesn’t believe in those conservative principles that have made us so great.”
Cox also took a moment to burnish his right-wing credentials by speaking out against abortion.
“As the arc of history bends toward justice there’s one group that’s not being listened to, and that’s unborn children. I believe history will look back sadly on those children who are being killed because of abortion.”
Rep. Chris Stewart fed red meat to the delegates, jumping on the current GOP scaremongering trend about the rising threat of socialism.
“We are going to teach our young people that capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty than any other economic system in the history of the world. President Trump was absolutely right when he said that America will never be a socialist country,” he said.
Stewart also repeated several inaccurate GOP talking points about the “Green New Deal,” claiming that the idea would eliminate airplanes and livestock. The “Green New Deal” does not say anything about air travel or getting rid of cows, but that bit of misinformation seems to have started with a tweet from President Trump in February.
Evans told delegates there’s a “very good chance” that President Donald Trump will visit Utah in 2020 to help Republicans reclaim the 4th Congressional District seat narrowly won by Ben McAdams in 2018.
“We’ve got to get him out off office because Ben McAdams has provided aid and comfort to the socialists in the Democratic party,” said Evans.