Carson Jorgensen stepping aside as head of Utah GOP. Who will lead Beehive Republicans next?

Later this spring, Utah Republicans will have a new leader for the fourth time since 2017.

Utah Republican Party Chair Carson Jorgensen says he is not running for a second term as the head of the state’s largest political party.

Jorgensen, a sheep rancher elected in an upset in 2021, says he has enjoyed his time as the state party leader of the GOP, but it’s time to turn the reins over to someone else.

“We’ve done a lot of good things, but I almost feel like I’ve taken it as far, policy-wise, as I can go. It needs somebody who can take it to the next level,” Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen rode a wave of anti-establishment anger into office. On the eve of the 2021 GOP convention, newly-elected Gov. Spencer Cox and other high-profile Republicans sent a letter to delegates endorsing a slate of candidates that included then-Utah County GOP Chairman Stuart Peay for the top spot and Cox’s gubernatorial campaign manager Austin Cox for vice-chair. The backlash from that endorsement led to Jorgensen’s victory.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stuart Peay during his campaign for state GOP chair in 2021.

Jorgensen’s most crucial accomplishment from the past two years, he says, was getting the party’s budget into the black. There is money in the party’s bank account “for the first time in a long, long time,” Jorgensen said.

Most of the party’s financial problems can be traced to the years-long legal fight over election amendments legislation. This 2014 compromise, then-SB54, allowed candidates to bypass party delegates and secure a spot on the primary election ballot. Legal costs stemming from that battle nearly bankrupted the party.

Financial disclosures show the party is in the black but hardly flush with cash. The most recent Federal Election Commission filing reveals the party with just over $7,000 in the bank, while the party’s state account finished 2022 with just over $8,000.

The 2022 midterm elections were another success Jorgensen pointed to. Utah’s seats in Congress remained in the Republican column while the GOP added to their supermajority in the Utah Legislature.

During his tenure, Jorgensen often found himself in the headlines. After Gov. Cox vetoed a bill banning transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports, Jorgensen took to Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program to decry Cox’s embrace of “woke ideology.”

Before last year’s GOP primary elections, Jorgensen demanded the party be given a say in deciding the topics and moderators for primary debates sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission. When the commission refused that request, the Utah GOP opted to sponsor its own debates.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) New young leadership takes its place for the Utah GOP as Vice-Chair Jordan Hess, Secretary Olivia Dawn Horlacher, Party Chair Carson Jorgensen and Treasurer Mike Bird, from left, are interviewed by the media following their win during the Utah Republican Party’s 2021 Organizing Convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

As Jorgensen steps aside, party delegates will elect a new leader for the fourth time in six years. Airline pilot Rob Anderson upset two-term GOP chairman James Evans in 2017 but opted not to seek a second term. Former Utah state Rep. Derek Brown succeeded Anderson in 2019. He also decided to call it quits after one term.

Turnover is quite common among state-level GOP leaders. Jorgensen says the average tenure for a state party boss is just 18 months.

Jorgensen, who at 32 became one of the youngest party leaders ever, says he is not done with politics in the Beehive State.

“I’m just getting started,” Jorgensen laughs. “I’ve had some people say they don’t want to see my stupid hat anymore. I tell them the hat is going to be a permanent fixture in Utah politics for some time to come, so they better get used to it.”

There is some speculation Jorgensen may be mulling a challenge to Cox for governor in 2024, but he remains mum on the subject.

With Jorgensen stepping aside, current party treasurer Mike Bird is seeking the top spot for the next two years. Bird, a director of operations and finance for University of Utah Healthcare, says he aims to bring a sense of continuity to the party ahead of the 2024 election.

“We hit peaks of momentum, and then we have a new election and have to start over. I think the 2024 election will be one of the biggest elections of at least my lifetime. The party would definitely benefit from keeping the momentum and hitting the ground running,” Bird says.

To win, the new party chair will need to win a majority of support from the 4,000 GOP delegates at the party’s organizing convention at Utah Valley University next month.