SALT LAKE CITY — Utah GOP chairman James Evans will compete this weekend for a third term as his party’s leader, but he’s facing two challengers unhappy with the way he waged a legal battle with the state over a law changing how political parties nominate candidates.
Evans, Davis County GOP chair Rob Anderson and party Vice-Chair Phill Wright will face off at the party’s annual convention Saturday in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, where about 4,000 Utah Republicans selected to serve as delegates will pick GOP leadership.
The three candidates differ most is their varying approaches to the GOP’s ongoing court fight over the 2014 law regulating the nomination of candidates that was passed in 2014.
It allows candidates to skip the party’s caucus and convention system, where they would compete before core party members, and instead run in primary elections with a broader, more moderate group of voters weighing in.
Anderson thinks Republicans should drop an ongoing legal fight and move on. But Wright thinks the party should have been more aggressive and should continue fighting changes that he says are being imposed by the GOP’s “left fringe.”
The nominating law, aimed at broadening participation, caused deep fissures in Utah’s GOP, with the party’s most conservative wing seeing it as a betrayal of its longstanding caucus and convention system.
That system gave significant power to a core group of delegates who generally settled on the party’s nominees at their convention.
Evans and the Utah Republican Party have sued the state, including GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, arguing the law unconstitutionally told the GOP, a private organization, how to pick its candidates. A federal judge ruled against the GOP, but the party is appealing to a federal appeals court in Denver.
Wright told the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/2rkk575) that it’s time for a change of leadership because Evans waited too long to file the lawsuit. He believes Republicans must keep fighting the changes.
“It’s offensive,” Wright said. “People would be up in arms if that happened in their churches. Republicans feel the same way about a law dictating how a private organization runs.”
Anderson thinks the Utah Republican Party needs to drop the fight and move on. He argued it’s the best financial move, saying the party has about $300,000 in legal bills and that wealthy donors who oppose the lawsuit have stopped donating to the party.
Evans said the GOP’s lawyers have agreed to accept whatever the party can raise to pay the legal bills that currently total about $85,000.
The chairman said he is also raising money to pay the legal bills by selling advertisements in programs to be handed out at the party convention, and in other GOP publications.
Most GOP leaders step down after serving two, two-year terms, but Evans said he’s the best candidate to continue challenging the nominating law.
“There’s still work to be done,” Evans said. “I’m the only one with the relationships with our elected officials to help steer to a successful conclusion on this.”
Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com