Rolly: Another day, another demand from Utah GOP purists. Now they want party’s No. 2 leader to quit

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Paul Rolly.

The civil war inside the Utah Republican Party is getting nastier as the runaway group that called its own special State Central Committee meeting to defy Chairman Rob Anderson is now urging Vice Chairwoman Joni Crane to resign.

That’s because she has filed to run in Vernal’s Senate District 26. Members of the renegade group say Republicans should not be wearing two hats as a party officer and an elected official.

Of course, that is the same group of ideologues who supported Blake Cozzens when he ran for House District 72 in Cedar City while he was chairman of the Iron County Republican Party.

He actually was going up against a GOP incumbent, John Westwood, who won the party primary despite Cozzens’ edge as party boss.

But Cozzens is part of the defiant group that insists the party nominate its candidates through convention delegates elected at neighborhood caucuses.

Crane is part of the Republican establishment that is more tolerant of the Legislature’s SB54 compromise allowing multiple paths to the primary ballot, including the caucus-convention system, signature gathering or both.

That makes those members less than real Republicans, according to convention purists.

At first, Anderson dismissed the December special meeting — during which party members voted to accept Entrada CEO Dave Bateman’s offer to pay off the GOP’s $400,000 debt — as illegitimate.

But Anderson has since accepted Bateman’s offer and said the Central Committee should decide how to move forward with the lawsuit, currently awaiting a decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether to reverse or confirm lower court rulings that went against the party.

Despite Anderson’s conciliatory gesture, he still is being blasted by convention die-hards for sending an email to potential GOP candidates offering party support for their signature-gathering efforts.

The attacks on Crane indicate the bad blood is still boiling.

Some Republicans are calling for term limits to cap the number of years a Central Committee member may serve. That sentiment is seen as a way to trim out some of the long-tenured members who, arguably, are less apt to find solutions to disagreements through compromise.

Legislators who backed SB54 say it preserved the caucus-convention system by stopping a petition drive that sought a ballot initiative to create direct primaries.

Now, some of them say if they had known what kind of animus it would cause within the GOP, they would not have pushed for the bill and let the initiative go forward.

That might still happen. The Count My Vote group that fought for the initiative in the first place has resumed its petition drive.

Just call it another day in the life of Utah’s Grand Old Party.

An unlikely source • With all the financial problems the Utah Republican Party has endured the past few years, Anderson is trying to save money by filling staff positions with college interns.

One intern is being provided by Westminster College through the Randy Horiuchi Endowed Political Fellowship, which got its seed money from donations raised at a December 2014 tribute to the former Salt Lake County officeholder, whose wicked sense of humor and clever campaign tactics often nettled his Republican opponents.

Horiuchi died in November 2015, but those contributions in the name of the late Democratic stalwart are helping to keep his rivals afloat.

Uniting in sisterhood • Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski recently posted on Facebook her support for the #MeToo movement that has inspired women to unite and speak out about sexual assault, harassment and gender discrimination.

But supporters of fired Salt Lake City Fire Department battalion chief Martha Ellis question the mayor’s sincerity.

Calling the movement a “national reckoning on how women are treated in our society,” Biskupski wrote, “Never before had so many women come forward to bravely raise their voice to end sexual assault and harassment. Every survivor deserves to speak their truth. Thousands of women across [Salt Lake City] and Utah have joined this movement in solidarity and will only end with greater equity, visibility and justice for all.”

Except for Ellis?

Salt Lake City’s first female battalion chief and fire marshal was demoted during then-Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration for pointing out fire code violations and other problems in the fire department. Biskupski criticized Becker during the 2015 campaign for ignoring discriminatory treatment of Ellis as well as acting too slowly to address sexual harassment allegations in the police department.

As mayor, though, Biskupski has done little to protect Ellis against retaliation by fire department brass for being a whistleblower.

After Biskupski became mayor, Ellis was fired. The city’s Civil Service Commission deemed the earlier demotion unjust and ordered that Ellis be reinstated to her original position.

But Ellis has yet to be returned to her former post. She wants refresher training and is currently without a job. Ellis is suing the city, and Biskupski has promoted to chief one of the fire department leaders named in the suit.