Utah State Capitol 11State Republican Party chairman James Evans says some GOP officeholders are “dishonestly” misinterpreting a letter he recently sent to state party bosses concerning the party’s continued battle over SB54.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who has butted heads with Evans over SB54 before, says it is a fair interpretation of what the State Central Committee letter could mean: That registered Republicans who sign GOP candidates petitions could face “punitive” actions by party leaders, even being kicked out of the party.

In any case, it does appear that the SCC letter – seen below – could mean county clerks (and thus petition-route candidates) may have problems in getting all their petitions authorized promptly by Utah election law deadlines later this spring.

If that is the case, Evans told UtahPolicy, that's not the Utah Republican Party’s problem.

“We are following SB54 to the letter of the law,” Evans said. And the law gives political parties until March 1 of an election year to officially file a “certification” with the state – which, claims Evans, then allows county clerks to start to verify signatures on candidates who are taking the petition-gathering route to a party primary.

Clerks cannot start verifying a party’s candidates’ signatures until that certification takes place, says Evans.

But that is not the case, says Mark Thomas, chief deputy to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and state elections officer.

Evans himself is misinterpreting state election law; Thomas tells UtahPolicy, and Thomas has instructed county clerks and his own State Elections Office staff to verify candidate petition signatures as they come in from the candidates, regardless of the March 1 party certification deadline.

“We’ve assumed all along that (state GOP leaders) will want only registered Republicans to sign their candidates’ petitions – that goes without saying – it’s self-identified,” said Thomas.

Thus, since clerks and State Election Office officials go off of voter registration files, not party membership lists, the verifications don’t have to wait, says Thomas.

But there is a catch:

If state Sen. X gets the signature of Registered Republican Y, and then later the state GOP sends up a membership list that doesn’t include Registered Republican Y, what happens?

Well, Evans says only the membership list counts.

And Thomas says the registered Republican list counts.

And Weiler worries Evans may kick Registered Republican Y out of the party for even signing a candidate’s petition – thus finding a way around SB54, but jeopardizing the candidate’s ability to make the 2016 ballot.

Confused?

Join the club.

 Evans says state GOP doesn’t have the resources – nor should it spend any time – in hurrying up its official certification filing, which he claims then starts the candidate petition verification process.

The party will meet the March 1 5 p.m. deadline, and not before, said Evans.

Apparently Evans is getting heat from some GOP officeholders who support SB54 and are taking the signature-gathering route under the new law.

Evans went so far as to say to UtahPolicy that the newsletter should not even report what some GOP officeholders are saying about his actions because that in and of itself furthers the “dishonest” claims that the Republicans – like Weiler – are making.

But Weiler, a former state party vice chairman, says Evans and other party leaders are sailing into dangerous waters, and if not careful could wreck the GOP ship on rocks leading to no GOP candidates getting on 2016 ballots via violation of the Qualified Political Party requirements in SB54.

In any case, both Evans and Thomas say they are still moving ahead with a congenial lawsuit (soon to be jointly filed) seeking clarification of SB54 before the Utah Supreme Court.

In a letter sent to declared GOP candidates last week, seen below, Evans warned that any signature-gathering would basically be a waste of time and resources in their campaigns, that the party maintains only those candidates who succeed in their party delegate conventions are assured of making the ballots, and that donors have told him they don’t want to see their money wasted on signature-gathering efforts.

Weiler, like many Republican and Democratic candidates this year – is taking both the signature-gathering route allowed under SB54 AND going to their party conventions to be voted on by delegates.

SB54 says a dual-route candidate who gets his required signatures can’t be denied a primary ballot slot by convention delegates.

And Thomas says any qualified signature candidate will make the party primary ballot.

Evans maintains the only way to a GOP primary is for a candidate to get at least 40 percent of the convention vote.

Thus the court fight.

Weiler said he hired a professional signature-gathering firm to get District 23 registered Republican signatures. Those 2,000 signatures were gathered in just a few days – for about $4 a head, or $8,000.

Thomas says regardless of what Evans is telling candidates and GOP county clerks, the clerks should start verifying any signatures submitted by candidates.

Clerks check names for county office candidates and legislative candidates whose districts fall entirely inside their county.

The state elections office verifies candidate signatures for federal offices, statewide office (like governor) and for legislative districts crossing county lines, said Thomas.

Evans says it is “dishonest” and his is “amazed” any Republican would say that GOP leaders plan to kick anyone out of the party who signs a candidate’s SB54 ballot-achieving petition.

Any Republican – officeholder or not – who claims so “is trying to destroy the Utah Republican Party,” says Evans.

Pretty harsh language, but Evans is clearly upset over what some GOP officeholders are saying about party actions – specifically the SCC letter – concerning the party’s ongoing battle against SB54.

Such we’ll-kick-you-out talk is “without any credibility,” said Evans.

But Weiler, and even Thomas say it may well be up to any party, via its certification filing due March 1, to say who is in the party membership – and thus qualified to sign a candidate’s SB54 ballot-achieving petition.

“No reasonable person can read” the SCC letter “and conclude” that any Republican will be kicked out of the party for signing a candidate petition, said Evans.

“It’s all nonsense,” he added.

No one will be kicked out for signing a petition. No petition signer will be denied a delegate slot nor party leadership post for signing a candidate petition, Evans adds.

But Weiler, an attorney, says any candidates who take only the delegate/convention route in 2016 “are putting their political future in James’ hands.”

That’s because if GOP leaders mess up and get the Utah Republican Party removed as a Qualified Political Party via any “punitive” action concerning petition signing or membership via SB54, says Weiler, a delegate/convention route candidate could end up off the 2016 ballot.

That won’t happen, says Evans.

Only fear mongers are saying that he adds.

The Utah Republican Party will follow all SB54 regulations – and GOP candidates going the petition route are only wasting campaign money and effort – and perhaps risking the displeasure of their party delegates.