The Count My Vote debate inside the Utah Republican Party is now being played out in an intraparty battle for House District 72 in Cedar City.
Iron County Republican Chairman Blake Cozzens is challenging the incumbent, Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, for the GOP nomination.
Cozzens has been one of the lead opponents of the Count My Vote initiative and his Iron County Republican Party was the first entity to contribute a large amount of money to the political action committee backing the anti-Count My Vote group, Protect Our Neighborhood Elections.
Iron County shoveled $5,000 to the effort to stop the ballot initiative that would have changed the caucus/convention candidate nominating system to a direct primary. The issue became moot when the Legislature passed a compromise bill that allows for both pathways to the ballot.
Cozzens wasn’t satisfied with that compromise, however, and has been one of the most vocal critics of Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, claiming the caucus/convention system is the best way to nominate candidates and it shouldn’t be diluted with a second route to the ballot.
Now, critics are calling Cozzens exhibit A for those who argue the caucus/convention system should be changed.
Cozzens’ candidacy against Westwood will be fought out in the county Republican convention while Cozzens remains as the sitting party chair.
State Republican Chairman James Evans, who also was fighting the Count My Vote effort on behalf of his party before supporting the compromise, said the two hats worn by Cozzens violates the county party bylaws, which prohibit the county party or its executive officers from publicly supporting, endorsing or assisting one Republican candidate over another prior to a primary election.
“Since the act of publicly filing shows you are supporting, endorsing and assisting yourself over (another Republican candidate), your refusing to step down as Iron County Republican Party Chair …puts you in direct conflict with this provision in your bylaws,” Evans wrote to Cozzens.
But Cozzens says he has recused himself from all the convention duties and turned it over to the vice chairman. He said the bylaws and conventions committee had a long discussion about the rule and concluded he is not in violation because the party or its officers are not actively supporting or endorsing him.
Matt Carling, chairman of the party’s bylaws and convention committee, said he concurs with Cozzens’ conclusion that he is not in violation.
Cozzens also said it was unethical for Evans to release the letter to others, including those working for Westwood’s campaign, which resulted in its public posting on the Utah Republicans unofficial Facebook Page.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, is the person who posted the letter on the Facebook page and is now being castigated on the page by Cozzens’ supporters. Weiler said when he first learned about Cozzens’ two hats by reading about it in a news story, he posted on Twitter that it was wrong. After that post, he received a copy of the letter from a supporter of Westwood and posted in on the Facebook page.
“This is not personal against Blake Cozzens,” he said. “I have strong feelings about a sitting party officer running against other Republicans for public office. It gives them a one-up for themselves and it’s not right.”
He raised the same objection against then Democratic Party State Chair Jim Dabakis when he ran against other Democrats to fill an open Senate seat. And he criticized Enid Greene for running for lieutenant governor in the Republican primary in 2004 while remaining as state Republican Party vice chair.
“After the election (in which Greene and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Nolan Karas lost to Jon Huntsman Jr. and Gary Herbert in the primary), Greene appeared at a GOP state central committee meeting and apologized for it,” Weiler said.