‘I don’t think I can unify the party effectively’: Rob Anderson will not seek a second term as Utah GOP chairman

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

Rob Anderson, embattled chairman of a divided Utah Republican Party, will not seek re-election to a second term after two years dominated by an ongoing and costly intraparty battle over the state’s election laws.

Anderson told The Tribune on Wednesday that he made the decision to step down last week, based in part on the “solid resistance” to his calls for unity after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the party’s lawsuit against the state, challenging a 2014 law, SB54. That law allows candidates to qualify for a partisan primary through either signature collection or the support of party delegates at convention.

“I’m in a position where I don’t think I can unify the party effectively,” Anderson said “And I think it’s time for someone else to step into the fray.”

On Saturday, Anderson was censured by the Republican State Central Committee, stemming from his decision last year to ignore a new party bylaw aimed at stripping candidates of their party membership if they choose to collect signatures.

A party committee formed to investigate Anderson found “ample justification to remove the chair from office,” according to a committee report obtained by The Tribune, but instead recommended censure for abuse of authority and neglect of duty, in part to avoid the appearance of political motives ahead of the selection of a new party chairman in May.

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

Anderson said he withheld announcing his decision to not seek re-election because he did not want to go into Saturday’s central committee meeting as a “lame-duck” chairman. Asked about the censure against him, Anderson said he believes the committee’s actions were meant as pressure to step down.

“It was a pure political ploy,” he said.

Phill Wright, a member of the State Central Committee and a leading critic of SB54, expressed his appreciation for Anderson’s service and wished him well.

“I understand, having served in a state party leadership position, it can be a thankless job,” Wright said.

Wright also confirmed to The Tribune that he again plans to run for Utah Republican Party chairman, saying Republicans need an experienced leader who understands what is at stake and the necessary steps to turn the party around.

While Republicans maintain a supermajority in the state Legislature and hold all statewide offices, the party lost ground last year, losing one seat in the Utah Senate, three seats in the Utah House and the 4th Congressional District.

“Things like that shouldn’t happen in a Republican-dominated state like Utah,” Wright said.

Anderson said he plans to attend the party convention in May, but that he hasn’t decided whom to support as his successor. He said he has no regrets, and plans to enjoy some vacation time with his family after his term ends, potentially including the construction of a cabin on family ranch property in Wyoming.

When Anderson was elected chairman, the party was deeply in debt stemming from its protracted court battles over SB54. Anderson said that debt has been cut from roughly $750,000 to now $98,000, and his remaining time as chairman will be focused on balancing the party’s books.

“I’m going to focus my efforts on turning over a fully-functioning party that’s in the black," he said. “If I could do that, I’ll have turned around at least the economic status of the party.”