Legislative candidate Steve Waldrip walked out of the Weber County Republican Convention in April with 71 percent delegate support and, he figured, the party endorsement going into the June 26 primary.
Weeks later, Waldrip, an Eden developer and consultant, was shocked to learn that GOP leaders instead were endorsing his primary opponent, Jason Kyle, for the sole reason that Kyle sought the nomination exclusively through the convention, while Waldrip also gathered signatures.
Kyle had finished with 29 percent delegate backing, a showing that in most conventions would have knocked him out of the running altogether but was enough to keep him afloat under arcane rules adopted by the Weber GOP.
Waldrip figures he’ll still win his primary race, but he shakes his head over how party leaders have allowed their passionate opposition to SB54, the signature-gathering law, to overwhelm common sense.
“You’d have to be crazy to think this will help the party,” he says.
“People are just absolutely incensed with what the county party’s doing,” Waldrip adds. “The delegates just feel completely disenfranchised, and this is being done by people who are saying they’re so pro-delegate and so pro-caucus, yet they’re killing their own delegates and making them feel completely valueless in the process.”
Waldrip’s isn’t an isolated case.
Two other delegate-preferred candidates in Weber County were also denied the party endorsement — and a campaign donation to go with it — because, like Waldrip, they gathered signatures to get on the ballot besides going through convention.
Sheriff candidate Ryan Arbon goes into the primary with a 62 percent convention win to face Kevin Burns, who snared 38 percent of the delegate vote but still picked up the party’s nod and support.
And state Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, who is running for the County Commission, came out of the GOP convention with 52 percent of the delegate vote and faces a primary with James Couts, a convention-only candidate whose 48 percent finish earned him the party endorsement and donation.
Froerer said it was even announced at convention that, as the top delegate vote-getter, he would receive the party endorsement. It was only later he discovered GOP leaders had a different view.
“It’s kinda crazy,” said the six-term state lawmaker.
“It’s a slap in the face to, obviously, those of us who respected the delegate process and talked to all the delegates. But it’s probably a bigger slap in the face to the delegates who spent 12 hours of a Saturday that now they found that their vote and voice doesn’t count.”
Among Republicans troubled by the Weber County fiasco is Gov. Gary Herbert.
“Governor Herbert finds it puzzling that those who tout the delegate system won’t listen to the delegates,” spokesman Paul Edwards said. “And he finds it disappointing that a party organization would show bias against candidates who have availed themselves of lawful means to get onto the ballot. We need more access to the ballot, not less.”
State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, tweeted that the Weber County turmoil “is like watching ‘Animal Farm’ play out in real time.”
Weber County Republican Chairwoman Lynda Pipkin did not return a request for comment for this story. But, in a June 5 email to GOP voters, she wrote: “The purpose was to attract more candidates to use the party’s preferred vetting system known as the caucus/convention system. … That is why our elected delegates use our party platform as the litmus test when they are vetting our convention candidates.”
The Weber County Republican Party and the GOP in neighboring Davis County have become the tip of the spear in the ongoing Republican civil war to overturn SB54.
Davis County was the first Republican party to adopt different rules for signature-gathering candidates than others. There, a signature-gathering candidate must capture 70 percent of the vote to clinch the nomination, compared with 60 percent for convention-only candidates.
This new rule applied to incumbent Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, a moderate who racked up a 66 percent convention win over Phill Wright, former state Republican vice chairman, but still must beat Wright in the primary. The Davis County GOP, however, awarded its endorsement to Ward, the clear favorite of delegates.
Asked to comment on the Weber County flap, Davis County GOP Chairwoman Teena Horlacher turned the conversation to how horrible SB54 is and how it is to blame for all political problems.
“It’s just left the party in a complete mess,” Horlacher said of the signature-gathering law.