Last Saturday was a gorgeous, warm spring day that many Utahns spent basking in the sun and playing in the mountains.
Not me. I sat in the Maverik Center for 10 hours at the Utah Republican Party 2018 Nominating Convention.
It was painful.
At 11 a.m., delegates crammed into the slender, arena seats with generous manspreading. Manspreading? It’s when a man sits in a seat smaller than he prefers, splays his legs out into the space next to him and takes up both armrests with his largesse.
I had to ask the guy next to me to take the apple out of his pocket because it kept jabbing me in the leg. That was an awkward conversation.
Speaking of the guy next to me, we started off with a normal civil disregard apt for strangers but quickly bonded over the disaster we were both surviving. He showed me pictures of his grandkids. And birds.
I pulled out the fancy Orrin Hatch sugar cookie decorated to commemorate his 42 years in the Senate (!!) just in time to eat it while listening to the great senator himself give his last convention address ever. I had helped myself to a second cookie that I gave to Birdman, mostly because now we were friends.
Keep in mind it’s already 11:30 a.m. and we’re one speaker in on a 20-plus item agenda.
While Birdman and I enjoyed Hatch’s offerings, we were accosted by a video of President Trump describing Hatch as a “very special man” and “true fighter.” The cookie got stuck in the back of my throat.
Hatch only spoke for a few minutes after his video, and as he walked off stage his campaign set off confetti canons as the crowd cheered, then went dismally quiet.
Hundred of thousands of little American flags covered the floor. That’s right, Hatch sprayed small flag papers into the air to land on the floor and be trampled under the feet of Utah’s GOP for the next 10 hours. Not the best metaphor to leave on.
After an hour of speeches from elected officials (Sen. Mike Lee got the loudest applause by far), we then practiced voting with the electronic system. For another hour. I am not even kidding.
This was where it got wild, and I don’t mean wild in a good way.
For the next two and a half hours, delegates lined up behind microphones to ask inane questions, offer unhelpful suggestions or try to talk about something not at issue. Chair pro tem Enid Mickelson tried to shut it down, but there’s only so much you can do to stop 3,500 people who like to hear themselves in a microphone.
Delegates were yelling and booing from their seats. At one point the police officers who were babysitting us had to close in on the microphone areas where the delegates were getting feisty. It felt like an arena full of heckling hyenas.
Some of the delegates were upset GOP Chair Rob Anderson had included in the program certain proposals to change party bylaws. These delegates thought the proposals should go to the state central committee first. If passed, the proposals would limit the power of the state central committee, which is why these delegates, most of who were on the state central committee, objected so strongly.
Mickelsen explained her position on the issue, allowed delegates to discuss it and then allowed a vote. But delegates kept battling about how to vote, and when to vote, and if they should vote. Finally, they decided not to vote, to skip the proposals altogether, and to get along with the business of the convention — congressional and Senate elections.
So at 3:30 we heard our first speech from a candidate. After 12 speeches for the four separate congressional races, we were left with nominations for Rep. Rob Bishop, Rep. Chris Stewart, Rep. Mia Love, and a primary election between Rep. John Curtis and Chris Herrod. Again. The same race we had just last August in the special election for the vacancy created when Jason Chaffetz left office.
Except this time Curtis beat Herrod at convention. By a lot.
In their speeches, candidates covered Stalin’s gulag, a group sing-a-long of “What a Wonderful World,” the deep state, signatures, almost every amendment to the Constitution, a carpet-bag full of irrelevant items, introductions of girlfriends-who-have-no-name, signatures, igniting the Constitution (anyone playing a drinking game would have been dead from alcohol poisoning), Abraham Lincoln (himself), guns (of course), signatures, David and Goliath, Count My Vote and the caucus system, immigration, oaths and the political histories of most of the early revolutionists.
It wasn’t until 5:30 p.m. – more than six hours after the convention officially started, and more than nine hours after some of the multi-county elections were held – that the candidates for Senate finally began their speeches. They each had five minutes, and there were 12 of them.
The worst of the Senate speeches was given by a candidate who brought a carpet bag. OK, that was funny. A dig on Mitt Romney’s recent, opportunistic move to Utah to save us from ourselves. Except that the candidate belabored the act so tortuously that he was booed off the stage.
It was the only booing of the day that I supported.
It took more than eight hours from the start of the convention to get the results of the Senate race. State Rep. Mike Kennedy clinched a win with 51 percent to Romney’s 49 percent in a second round.
Romney was a good sport to play along, knowing he’d be on the ballot anyway because he collected signatures. And few people predicted how well he would actually do.
Kennedy is a solid, conservative candidate that a bare majority of delegates voted for, at least the ones who were still there at 7:15 p.m.
In sum, it was a mind-numbing, tragically painful and completely embarrassing disaster. But it could have been worse. At least we didn’t fawn over Trump.
Some have been bemoaning the fact that the delegates have forced Romney into a primary against Kennedy. I know, you may be confused. If you’ve been listening to the Count My Vote supporters, you’d think they’d be glad the delegates chose two candidates for a primary, instead of just anointing Romney as senator from Utah.
But they only want primaries when their candidate isn’t the front-runner.
CMV’s true colors don’t matter, though, because the party is its own worst enemy. Nobody wants to attend a 10-hour convention. I tweeted my experience. One follower asked, “Don’t these people have friends to tell them when enough is enough?”
Utah GOP Central Committee members, I am your friend. I have always been your friend (except when you hated me over immigration).
Enough is enough.
Michelle Quist is an editorial writer for The Salt Lake Tribune who attended the convention not as a journalist, but as a delegate, and thereby proved that she is certifiably nuts.