Holly Richardson: The Utah Republican Party is a dumpster fire

The gang of 51 seems intent on burning the party to the ground in the name of purity.

(Rick Bowmer | The Associated Press) Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney smiles as he declares his candidacy for the U.S. Senate at the state elections office Thursday, March 15, 2018, at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City.

The filing period for running for office ended Thursday at 5 p.m. with a whopping 19 candidates filing for the U.S. Senate seat. Other races have one candidate. (Congratulations on your win.)

Most, though, have at least two candidates. That’s a good thing. Dialogue and differing points of view can make for robust public policy discussions and better laws when the public can weigh in by voting for the candidate of their choice.

The public doesn’t always get that chance. Sometimes, the candidate of their choice is eliminated long before those voters see a ballot. The battle of who can get on a ballot continues to rage in the Utah Republican Party.

In what should be the thick of campaign season, when the party should be focused on helping Republicans get elected, the small-tent purists who want to boot anyone who is the “wrong” kind of Republican are trying to duke it out with those Republicans still sticking with the party but hoping it hits bottom soon.

The worst volunteer job in the state right now is that of Rob Anderson, Republican party chairman, who boarded the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. Thank goodness he is there but, with the dumpster fires in front and the knives in his back, he is doing a yeoman’s job of just staying the course.

Fifty-one members of the GOP State Central Committee voted in a hastily called “emergency” meeting in late December to change the party bylaws — except according to state law, they don’t have the power to do that. Instead of acknowledging state law, they throw shade at Rob for circumventing “the process.” Huh?

The hypocrisy is thick. Apparently state law should only apply when they like it and should be ignored or opposed when they don’t like it. Their purity panel hypocrisy goes even deeper: They are paying people for gathering signatures to prevent others from gathering signatures.

Two county parties have also jumped on the hypocritical bandwagon — Davis and Salt Lake. They will allow signature-gathering for the “good kind” of petitions on caucus night, but want to prevent all other signature-gathering, including by candidates. Of course, the “good kind” of signature-gathering is the kind that would eliminate signature-gathering.

Then, the personal attacks have started — and they are not limited to candidates.

Dave Bateman, CEO of Entrata and backer of the “Gang of 51” trying to force the Utah Republican Party to only allow the “right” kind of Republicans, took to Facebook last night to complain about Facebook groups of which he is not a member — while belonging to Facebook groups like the “Utah Unofficial Republican Group,” which immediately boot and block anyone who disagrees with the echo chamber.

He also threw out some pretty salacious allegations about an employee of his being approached by some shadowy character offering her a million bucks if she would claim she was being sexually harassed. To that mystery employee who cannot be named: I am sorry you are being used as a pawn. Please immediately go to your nearest police station and file a report. This is not OK. To the mystery shadowy character who cannot be identified, y’all probably ought not to do that.

Or maybe it didn’t really happen. No one really knows.

In any case, the gang of 51 seems intent on burning the party to the ground in the name of purity. Many candidates have realized they can’t depend on the party (see above reference to the dumpster fire) and have created robust organizations of their own.

Let’s take Mitt Romney, for example. He is collecting 28,000 signatures and he is going through the GOP convention, with 11 other Republicans. He will win, likely with 75 percent or more of the primary vote. But to get there he gets to go through the delegate gantlet, have the opportunity to be booed and listen to 11 attack speeches, all aimed at him, while the rest of the Republican voters wonder who these people are.

Or Rep. John Curtis, who easily defeated Chris Herrod in the special election primary but who topped out at 9 percent at the Republican convention. Herrod wants a rematch, banking on being the convention choice. Curtis, who has shown himself to be an effective legislator, excellent at communicating and at getting things done, will win again, but also has to pass through the booing gantlet.

There is a glimmer of hope that the caucus system can return to being representative of the neighbors it claims to speak for. Candidates like Romney and Curtis are pushing to get their supporters to turn out to caucus on Tuesday night and get elected as delegates. It worked for Orrin Hatch in 2012, with the help of $6 million and a year and a half of work. But, with a dual path and strong candidates taking both, it remains just a glimmer.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, asks that, if you agree there is a glimmer of hope of taking back the caucus/convention system, you show up on Tuesday night and run for delegate. And bring your neighbors. Please.