Rolly: Utah GOP loyalists vote to accept $400K bailout and keep lawsuit on track, but party factions, including the top leader, could derail the plan

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Paul Rolly.

Lehi • If Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson is correct, 70 loyal Republicans wasted nearly four hours Saturday — which could have been spent Christmas shopping — in an effort to save their cherished caucus-convention nominating system.

If he is wrong, those 70 members of the state Central Committee took a crucial step toward retiring the party’s backbreaking $400,000 debt and keeping alive its lawsuit against the Count My Vote compromise passed by the Utah Legislature in 2014.

The members huddled at the headquarters of Lehi-based Entrata, whose CEO Dave Bateman promised to pay off the debt and fund continued litigation in the lawsuit.

“I want to see the case continue,” Bateman said. “I’m committed to preserving the caucus system. If we lose [in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals], I want to see it go to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The 70 members, representing 38 percent of the 180-strong Central Committee, easily exceeded the number needed to do party business.

They voted to transfer the party’s red ink, mostly incurred by the lawsuit, to Bateman and to give a previously appointed subcommittee, called the Constitutional Defense Committee (CDC), the authority to make decisions on behalf of the party regarding the lawsuit.

So far, the courts have ruled against the GOP’s assertion that it has the right to determine how its nominees are selected and that SB54, which created multiple paths to the primary ballot, including signature gathering, is unconstitutional.

The case is awaiting a decision from the circuit court, which already has heard oral arguments.

Helen Redd, a member of the subcommittee overseeing the lawsuit, said the special meeting was called because a ruling from the appellate court could come at any time, and the party needs to be ready to respond.

Anderson has maintained that the special meeting, approved by 51 members of the Central Committee, is invalid because they did not go through the proper procedures.

He concedes that the party’s constitution allows that 25 percent of the Central Committee can call a special meeting, but he argues those who did so strayed from the rules.

Anderson said the agenda needs to be circulated among the membership, then sent to the chairman and vice chairman of the party, who call for the meeting.

The GOP boss said neither he nor Vice Chairwoman Joni Crane was apprised until the notice for the meeting went out. Neither could attend because each had out-of-town commitments.

The party’s secretary, Lisa Shepherd, was the highest GOP official at the meeting, and delegate Kirby Glad was elected as chairman pro tem, giving him the authority to conduct the meeting.

The members voted to give Anderson the authority to negotiate a contract with Bateman until Jan 12. If a deal isn’t reached by then, the authority to negotiate with Bateman shifts to the five-member CDC.

Anderson balked at an earlier proposed contract that said GOP officers could not move to dismiss the lawsuit without Bateman’s consent.

Bateman told me Saturday that he does not want to be part of the committee nor does he want to have control over the lawsuit. That, he said, is up to the CDC. But if the party drops the lawsuit prematurely, meaning it doesn’t appeal to the next level if it loses in the 10th Circuit, then he would ask for a return of the money he would have spent to keep the suit moving forward.

When the Central Committee convenes its regularly scheduled meeting in January, presumably with a much larger contingent, members can vote to either accept the minutes of the special meeting or reject them.

So whether Saturday’s action sticks could get even stickier.