One day before Utah GOP convention, Scott Miller withdraws his candidacy to head state party

In email to delegates, the former Salt Lake County GOP chairman warns of a potential legal ‘conflict’ over claims from half a dozen women of a toxic, bullying culture under his leadership.

Scott Miller Photo courtesy of the Salt Lake County Republican Party

Less than 24 hours before the Utah Republican Party is set to convene and elect new leadership, Scott Miller has withdrawn his candidacy for chair.

The former Salt Lake County GOP chairman has faced allegations of permitting a toxic work environment while in that role. Miller said Friday in an email to delegates that potential legal action over some of those claims — now being pursued, he said, by his communication director, Dave Robinson — threatened to create a conflict were Miller elected to head the state party.

“I am immediately withdrawing my name from the race to become your next State GOP Chairman,” Miller wrote in an email to delegates while as many as 3,600 of them were preparing to gather for their state convention.

The in-person event, starting at 8 a.m. at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, is scheduled to include elections for the state GOP’s new officers, along with speeches from top state and federal leaders and several platform debates.

More than half a dozen women have come forward with complaints of a toxic, bullying culture while Miller was in his county party leadership role, including during the most recent election campaigns. Some said Robinson, who served as a volunteer, used vulgar language, called people belittling names and withheld campaign resources.

When the women asked Miller to address the situation, they said little was done.

Interviewed about the allegations last month, Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune the assertions amounted to party “squabbling.”

With Miller’s abrupt departure from Saturday’s race, four candidates are now vying to become the party’s next leader. While some GOP members reacted swiftly to the news, it was not immediately clear how Miller’s withdrawal will affect the election for chair.

Miller had not been considered a frontrunner in the race, due to the allegations. In a letter to delegates earlier this month, many of Utah’s top Republicans endorsed rival candidate Stewart Peay for chair, including Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson.

Another candidate in Saturday’s race for the state party’s top post, Carson Jorgensen, said Friday in a written statement: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chair Miller,” but he added, “I don’t believe he had any other option at this juncture.”

Efforts by The Tribune to reach other remaining candidates — Peay, Tina Cannon and Brad Baker — were not immediately successful.

One of the party members who had raised allegations against Miller, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, said Friday she looked forward “to the Utah GOP electing a new chair on Saturday, who will move the party forward in a positive direction.”

Emails show Winder Newton tried to complain to Miller about Robinson’s treatment of donors and party members last September. They responded with an email accusing her of supporting Democrats, questioning her contributions to the party and calling her belittling names.

“With Miller out of the race,” Winder Newton said, “I feel assured that future Republican candidates won’t be bullied or ignored by the party.”

Miller initially issued an email attacking women’s credibility ahead of The Tribune’s publication of a story outlining their complaints. That led to swift rebukes from prominent state Republicans, such as Cox, Henderson, the outgoing state GOP chair Derek Brown and several legislators.

Miller apologized and resigned as county party chair within 24 hours of the claims becoming public.

But in recent weeks he has taken on a more defensive tone, calling into question the women who came forward and their supporters.

And in his email to delegates Friday, Miller called the women’s allegations “salacious,” outlining steps Robinson was taking to rebut them.

Earlier this month, in emails sent to party delegates, Miller claimed he was “Kavanaughed” and sought to shift blame to Winder Newton for failing to take more action to help women who complained, even though she held no party leadership role.

He has also called for a third-party investigation on Robinson’s behalf.

Miller warned delegates in Friday’s email that Robinson had now hired legal counsel and may pursue actions against women who had made allegations and against their supporters, including Cox.

If that legal action were to proceed with him as party chairman, Miller said, “I will immediately be placed in a position of conflict of interest due to my role as a key witness in this matter.”

Court records, meanwhile, showed no evidence late Friday that such a lawsuit had been filed.

~ Tribune political reporter Bryan Schott contributed to this report.