Utah Republican leaders censure the party chairman for alleged abuse of authority. He warns of ‘anarchy’ from action by small faction.

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson speaks to the membership about his stance on the ongoing lawsuit against SB54 at a Utah Republican Party Central Committee meeting, Sept. 9, 2017.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson was censured Saturday by members of the party’s State Central Committee (SCC) for alleged abuse of authority and neglect of duty in the latest chapter of a protracted fight within the GOP over a state law that allows candidates to get on the ballot by gathering signatures.

Members of a party investigation committee — formed after Anderson ignored a bylaw aimed at stripping election candidates of their party membership if they choose to collect signatures — found “ample justification to remove the chair from office,” according to a report obtained by The Tribune. Instead, they recommended censure — a move approved by party leaders Saturday.

“It is the SCC which is to determine what risks to take, be they financial, political or legal,” the report states. “The SCC is the final authority to determine which bylaws are against state law or not.”

In a lengthy post on Facebook early Monday, Anderson criticized the efforts of a “small but vocal faction” within Republican leadership to oppose the state’s election law and to punish candidates who qualify for the primary by collecting signatures rather than going through the party convention.

Anderson also objected to efforts to lower the requirements for ousting a party chairman, which he said “will cause immeasurable detriment to the Party going forward.”

Current party rules require 60 percent of the 187-member State Central Committee to remove party officers. But the investigation committee report includes a new interpretation of rules allowing the “for cause” removal of an officer with a simple majority vote, which Anderson suggested could be as few as 27 people.

“I ask all members of the UTGOP, at this time, to unite and elect leadership that will uphold the Rule of Law. The same Rule of Law that our Party espouses," Anderson wrote. “The choice is clear: unity and order versus anarchy and division. Now is the time for choosing.”

The Utah Republican Party has been in turmoil since the state Legislature in 2014 approved SB54, which allows election candidates to qualify for a partisan primary by earning the support of delegates at convention, by collecting signatures or both. The party sued the state over the law, which was ultimately upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The United States Supreme Court earlier this month declined to consider the 10th Circuit’s decision.

Last year, members of the party’s SCC approved a new bylaw nullifying the party membership of some candidates who collect signatures. (They excluded, for example, now-Sen. Mitt Romney, along with Rep. John Curtis and former Congresswoman Mia Love). But Anderson ignored that bylaw, arguing that it was invalidated by conflicts with state election code and could have cost the Utah Republican Party its “qualified” status under SB54, potentially jeopardizing all GOP candidates on the 2018 ballot.

Anderson referenced that decision in his Monday post, saying it fueled the creation of an investigative committee by SB54 opponents, which presented its findings to the SCC on Saturday.

“While serving in the Air Force, I never followed, nor would have followed, an illegal order. I would not, and will not, do so now,” Anderson wrote. “The UTGOP’s governing documents provide for the nullification of illegal language. As such, I chose not to incorporate those changes, nor to forward them to the State Elections Office knowing the tremendous risk involved to our candidates.”

But the party investigation committee’s report found that Anderson had no authority to unilaterally ignore the bylaw, and that he misrepresented party officials by altering documents that contained their signatures.

The report lists several benefits of removing Anderson as party chairman — including the removal of an “obstacle” to implementing the SCC’s policies — as well as several arguments against removal, like the negative impact on upcoming organizing elections, the necessary procedure of a trial for cause and that removal “this close to the [state] convention could be viewed as an underhanded political move.”

“Our organization cannot be successful when one person substitutes his own judgment to replace that of the duly authorized body,” the report states.

Party delegates will select a new chairperson in May, with the deadline for candidates to file in less than two weeks. Anderson did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Party Secretary Lisa Shepherd said the committee’s report would be publicly released this week. She described Anderson’s Facebook post as “premature” and said that any changes to the removal process — or vote threshold — would apply to all party officers.

“This isn’t about Rob,” she said.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said Saturday’s meeting went for roughly six hours with “a lot of bickering,” and the bulk of time was spent discussing Anderson’s chairmanship to the detriment of other party business.

“It’s sad that in the almost two years since Rob was elected, all the majority of people who show up want to do is talk about how they want to fire Rob,” Weiler said.