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Rolly: Chad Bennion: A GOP embarrassment?

Published August 24, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Republicans are trying to mitigate the inflammatory remarks by the party's Salt Lake County chair, Chad Bennion, against Democratic District Attorney Sim Gill, and some have privately apologized to Gill for Bennion's claims that the district attorney is a "cop hater."

But this isn't the first time Republicans have privately apologized to a Democrat for Bennion's behavior. And it raises the question of how, based on his history, Bennion became the face and voice of the county GOP.

In the few months since Bennion defeated fellow Republican Mike Livsey with 76 percent of the delegate vote at this year's county Republican convention, he has done his best to embarrass the party.

State Republican Chairman James Evans, who had a reputation as a bomb thrower during his tenure as chairman of the Salt Lake County GOP, was compelled to hold a press conference to douse the flames sparked by Bennion's attack. But he also tried to keep some attention on Gill and his judgment as a D.A. and, of course, put some of the blame for the controversy on the media.

Other Republicans say privately that Bennion's fury at Gill's conclusion that the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard was unjustified paints the party as one that would cover up any cop shooting without proper scrutiny.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, because it's just my speculation, but I don't think most cops would want a culture like that.

It didn't help that Bennion works with the Fraternal Order of Police and has assisted the attorney for one of the West Valley City narcotics detectives who shot Willard. Both circumstances opened Bennion to allegations of a conflict of interest.

But Bennion's bad judgment was nothing new, and if Republicans are now cringing at having a loose cannon as their leader in Salt Lake County, they should have known better.

Bennion's three terms in the Utah House (1999-2005) were fraught with controversy and more than once he came across as clownish in front of his peers.

Former Democratic state Sen. Mike Dmitrich once asked the sergeant at arms if Bennion, then in the House, could be barred from entering the Senate chamber because he was a pain in the neck.

He once infuriated car safety advocates by taking a bill sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, and changing the wording from increasing child seat-belt requirements to eliminating seat-belt requirements for adults. When his anti-seatbelt bill, with Moss still listed as the sponsor, passed a committee vote, he looked directly at his previous election opponent, Tim Cosgrove, who is a child safety advocate for Primary Children's Hospital and was there to support Moss' original bill, and smirked, as if to say: "Naa na-na-na naa naa!"

Cosgrove beat Bennion in the next election.

During his tenure in the House, some questioned if he actually lived in his Murray district because his listed address appeared to be in a business park and he had married a woman who lived in Park City.

Later, when he was the administrative assistant to then-Salt Lake County Councilman Marv Hendrickson, council members were convinced he was living in Hendrickson's office. They eventually had all the furniture removed on the premise that they were painting the office.

Few of the bills Bennion sponsored actually passed, but one that did — outlawing voluntary but automatic payroll deductions for employee contributions to a union, such as the Utah Education Association — cost the state about $1 million to defend in court.

Once, when he continued to make motions in an attempt to stop a hate crimes bill, then House Speaker Marty Stephens, clearly frustrated, ruled him out of order, the legislative equivalent of "sit down and shut up!"

This is the guy Salt Lake County Republicans are stuck with for two more years. —