Rolly: Special congressional election conjures up ghosts of Republican political past

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Former state Rep. Chris Herrod is running for the 3rd District Republican nomination in the special 2017 election. Former state Republican chairman Enid Mickelsen is saying he doesn't have the temperament to serve in Congress.

Call it atonement. Call it buyer’s remorse. Call it GOP infighting.

Former congresswoman and state Republican Party Chairman Enid Mickelsen was solely responsible for Chris Herrod’s selection to the Utah House of Representatives in 2007. Now she says he should not be elected to Congress.

“I have known Chris Herrod for a decade, and I believe he is intellectually and temperamentally unfit to serve in Congress,” Mickelsen wrote on her Facebook page.

It was posted just before mail-in ballots were sent out in the special Republican primary to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.

Herrod is one of three Republicans on the primary ballot, along with Provo Mayor John Curtis and businessman Tanner Ainge.

Mickelsen, who served one term in Congress in the mid-1990s when her name was Enid Waldholtz, was GOP state chairwoman when delegates in Provo’s House District 62 held a special election to replace Rep. Jeff Alexander, who resigned in the middle of his term.

The two top candidates were Herrod and, in a twist of irony, Curtis.

Curtis won by one vote, but under Utah law at the time, the state chair had the power to submit the party’s choice to the governor.

Mickelsen said Herrod was touted by Utah County Republicans as a true conservative, while Curtis had previously been a Democrat.

She submitted Herrod to the governor for the appointment.

“It was the worst decision I made as chairman,” Mickelsen told me in an interview.

Her Facebook post cited two examples to explain her concerns about Herrod.

“First, when hosting a KSL radio show that referenced immigration and children who have been raised in the U.S., I said that I did not believe in visiting the sins of the parents upon their children,” Mickelsen wrote.

“Chris Herrod later called me and told me that his wife wanted to know ‘why you are more concerned about children from Mexico than children from her country [Ukraine].’ I was so taken aback, that I decided I must have misheard him, and we quickly ended the conversation.

The second incident Mickelsen cited occurred at last year’s Republican National Convention.

Herrod had been the Utah co-chairman for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and the Utah delegation hoped to wrest the nomination from Donald Trump on the convention floor.

Mickelsen was the outgoing Republican national committeewoman from Utah and was the rules chairwoman for the convention.

The Utah delegation cast its 40 votes for Cruz, but having bowed out earlier, his name was not put into nomination so, under the state party rules, the delegates’ votes automatically went to Trump.

“After Trump secured the nomination, as I was standing with the Utah delegation, I hear someone screaming my name,” Mickelsen wrote.

“At least three consecutive times, [Herrod] screamed ‘Are you proud of yourself now, Enid?’ He was so loud, disruptive and hysterical in his behavior that at least one, and perhaps more, of his friends took Chris by the arm and half-walked, half-pulled Chris off the floor into a back hallway.”

Herrod’s take on Mickelsen’s criticisms: Possible sour grapes and this is just what happens in the world of rough-and-tumble politics.

Mickelsen wanted to be the rules chair for the Utah delegation at the national convention, and when Sen. Mike Lee’s wife, Sharon, was selected instead, “Enid let me have it,” Herrod said.

Mickelsen later was named rules chairwoman for the whole convention and, Herrod admitted, he was upset when the Utah delegation was not allowed to cast its votes for Cruz, who had overwhelmingly won the Utah caucus vote. He blamed Mickelsen.

On the immigration issue, he said he just wanted Mickelsen to understand the pain felt at other embassies, like Moscow and other areas of Eastern Europe, when families had to wait, or were denied, their visas.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with [expressing that opinion],” he said.

One fact that can be deduced from this intra-party feud: Political friendships often can be fleeting.