When the sun came up Sunday morning, former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright found themselves in an interesting position: According to state GOP bylaws, they were no longer Republicans.
Yep. Their party membership had been revoked.
That’s because both Huntsman and Wright were officially eliminated -- in the party’s eyes -- from the governor’s race this year on two accounts:
-- They failed to make it out of Saturday’s state Republican Party convention; the 3,800 delegates not placing them first or second in the voting.
-- And Bylaw 8 of the state party -- still valid despite recent attempts to repeal or change it -- says that the ONLY way to the party primary is through the caucus/delegate/convention process.
The SB54 signature-gathering route is prohibited under state party bylaws.
GOP state chairman Derek Brown -- full of praise in how top party officials ran the successful Thursday-through-Saturday virtual convention voting -- also finds himself in an odd position.
He swore to uphold the party constitution and bylaws, yet has said Bylaw 8 is basically illegal because it violates state law (SB54).
But Brown, like his predecessor Rob Anderson, could be in trouble with some anti-SB54/archconservative members of his State Central Committee for ignoring Bylaw 8. Anderson was officially censured by the SCC two years ago for refusing to send the Bylaw 8 up to the Utah Elections Office, nor for enforcing it within the party.
Brown told UtahPolicy.com Sunday that “it has not been decided” what it will mean this primary as far as SB54-only candidates getting access to any party assets.
“My job is to get our candidates elected in November,” said Brown, who has had to walk the Bylaw 8 tightrope for 18 months or more. “It is the party’s paradox: Bylaw 8 is a bylaw, but it is also against state law and unconstitutional.”
In any case, the Utah Elections Office -- which is overseen by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who DID come out of Saturday’s GOP convention (and also made the primary ballot via signatures) -- has said it will not remove any Republican candidate from the ballot this year, even if the only way they got there was by SB54’s signature-gathering process.
The guy who could have a real complaint about all of this is former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who didn’t take the signature route, but who DID come out of Saturday’s convention -- finishing second to Cox -- and so must face Huntsman and Wright on the four-person June 30 Republican Party primary ballot, even though under party rules the pair should have been eliminated Saturday.
Assuming the state -- via the Elections Office -- will take no formal action against Huntsman and Wright (they’ve stood by SB54 time and again, even issued a legal opinion in how they will enforce it this year), and will, in fact, instruct county clerks to put the two on the June 30 GOP ballot, then the question falls to Brown: What will he do, if anything, concerning Huntsman and Wright’s officially Republican Party status?
If you follow Bylaw 8 internally, Huntsman and Wright are not Republicans. Their membership is revoked.
As such, will the party organization help, harm, or stay neutral on their primary campaigns?
In the “help” category, the state party could -- like they do with all other official GOP candidates -- allow Huntsman and Wright campaigns access to party assets, like voter lists, give them any internal polling results, allow them to use any party phone banks, allow them to use the party’s mailing/franking privileges -- which saves money on campaign flyer postage.
Brown said Sunday it is his intent to treat all Republican candidates the same. All GOP ballot candidates, for example, will be invited to any official GOP event, like a party-sponsored gubernatorial debate, said Brown.
The “harm” category could actually be much bleaker for Huntsman and Wright.
The “help” could be denied the pair -- perhaps more of an annoyance than anything, if Huntsman and Wright have enough money in the primary to assemble their own lists, pay their own postage and phone banks, conduct their own polling and online campaigning.
But if the party, following Bylaw 8, actually comes out against Huntsman and/or Wright, or comes out IN FAVOR of just Cox and Hughes -- calling them the “official party” primary candidates and such -- then GOP rank-and-file voters could become confused when casting their write-in primary ballots in late June.
Who are the “official party” primary GOP candidates?
Well, says Brown, it’s a fact that Cox and Hughes are the “convention nominees.” How that plays over the next few primary months is, for now, up in the air.
Of course, there is no real doubt that Huntsman and Wright really are Republicans (although a number of Utah archconservatives love to call Huntsman a RINO -- Republican In Name Only -- for serving as an ambassador under Democratic President Barack Obama and holding some moderate views).
Huntsman won two gubernatorial races in the 2000s as a Republican.
Wright is a former state GOP chairman and national committeeman, serving in some important national party positions.
Their party bona fides are indisputable -- except for that darn Bylaw 8.
Brown has twice supported repealing or changing Bylaw 8. But such action takes two-thirds of SCC members voting to do so --and twice such votes fell short.
Bylaw 8 specifically exempted U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’ U.S. Senate race in 2018. Romney did come out of the convention, but he also gathered signatures to make the ballot, where he easily won the nomination over a convention archconservative favorite.
But there’s no such exemptions for 2020. Bylaw 8 is still in effect, and applies to all races, including the state Legislature (at least one, and perhaps more, incumbent GOP lawmakers made the primary ballot only through signature gathering, having lost in their delegate convention).
More likely, the state GOP will just take a “neutral” stand on Huntsman, Wright and other Republican candidates who make the primary ballot via signatures, having lost before their delegates.
Brown et al. may just ignore Bylaw 8. Do nothing. And see if any anti-SB54 group/individual sues in court, trying to get signature-gathering candidates off of the state-run party primary ballot.
How Cox and Hughes -- especially Hughes, who has proven himself a tough campaigner -- deal with Huntsman and Wright officially losing their Republican Party membership via Bylaw 8 will be seen over the next nine weeks of the GOP gubernatorial primary.