Divided GOP

Last week’s GOP county convention elections provided significant victories, UtahPolicy.com is told, for the “reasonable” Republicans running to blunt the influence of the so-called "Gang of 51" inside the state Republican Party.

As reported by UtahPolicy.com previously, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican leaders in the Utah Legislature, among others, have this spring been recruiting what may be termed “reasonable” party members to run for county party posts – like chair and vice-chair – and for the about 100 state Central Committee slots picked by county GOP delegates.

The 29 county organizing conventions are held in April, with the final showdown coming in the May 4 state convention – where “reasonable” chair candidate Derek Brown faces Gang of 51 chair candidate Phill Wright.

UtahPolicy.com is told that in the Cache County convention, a slate of five “reasonable” candidates all won, sweeping the field. Strong Gang of 51 Central Committee member Layne Beck lost – so he is out of the state party main governing committee.

In Salt Lake County’s Saturday GOP convention, at least 17 “reasonable” candidates won out of the possible 29 slots on the Central Committee.

And it could be that some of the other newly-elected officers lean more towards the “reasonable” group than the Gang of 51, UtahPolicy.com was told.

Still, in Salt Lake County a few diehard 51ers did win – Fred Cox, Cherilyn Eagar, David Pyne and Jared Cahoon, among them, results show.

The Davis County Republican Party may have seen the largest changes.

Chair Teena Horlacher, a strong Gang of 51 supporter, lost her chairmanship post. But she did win a state Central Committee slot, so while not running the county party, she will be on the 187-member state committee.

Davis County went from being 13 of 16 for the Gang of 51 to 11 of 16 for the “reasonable” group – with the Gang losing more than half of their membership on the state GOP’s main governing committee.

Said one state GOP leader: “We feel we had a good day in getting our party refocused and back on track to prioritizing candidate recruitment and elections over internal party rules and bylaws.”

The effort this spring to knock down the Gang of 51’s heavy-handed influence inside Utah’s largest political party has been successful so far, several sources said.

Archconservatives in the party started lawsuits over SB54 (all which failed). And their actions have basically bankrupted the state GOP, as traditional big donors to the party have stepped away, not liking the party’s bickering and backbiting. The Gang has tried time and again to get rid of current Chair Rob Anderson, who decided not to run for re-election in the May 4 state convention, sickened of internal party strife.

Part of all this infighting caused, in part, the Republicans’ poor showing in the 2018 elections, wherein Salt Lake County they lost most of the county offices, two state House seats, one state Senate seat, and – the biggest blow – the 4th Congressional District, where Democrat Ben McAdams barely beat GOP incumbent Rep. Mia Love.

State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful, who helped recruit “reasonable” Republicans to run in his county and in other counties, said Sunday: “The Utah GOP is still very divided, but the tide has turned.

“Delegates have grown tired of the constant bickering and infighting about the signature path.

“Now that the lawsuit has run its course, they are ready to move forward with new leadership/new faces.” He said.

However, two large population counties – Utah and Weber – have yet to hold their county GOP conventions. Those come on April 23 and April 27, respectively.

The Utah County Republican Party could still pick a few Gang of 51ers for their Central Committee slots, including Dave Bateman.

Bateman, CEO of Entrata, picked up the state party’s legal fees of more than $400,000, whittling that debt down to around $200,000.

The Bateman-funded Keep My Voice effort also kept the Count My Vote pro-SB54 citizen initiative petition off of the 2018 November ballot.

Bateman is running for the Central Committee, and if picked by Utah County delegates could be a strong desenting voice in future battles over SB54 – the state’s dual candidate pathway law which many archconservative GOP delegates hate.

But as it now stands, the Gang of 51 numbers has been cut well in half on the State Central Committee – and they have lost some of their more strident voices inside Utah’s majority political party.