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Rolly: For Republicans, it's not nice to fool Mother Nature, er, uh, Gary Herbert

Published June 8, 2017 9:55 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A 30-second commercial for Chiffon margarine that ran in the 1970s featured Mother Nature, adorned with a crown of daisies, tasting the margarine and insisting it was nature-created butter.

Then an off-camera commentator tells her Chiffon tastes so much like butter it even fooled Mother Nature. At that point, she glares threateningly at the camera and behind her is a bolt of lightning with an ominous thunder clap.

"It's not nice to fool Mother Nature," she declares.

The scuttlebutt circulating through Utah Republican circles suggests that crossing Gov. Gary Herbert is equally dangerous.

The recent defeat of two-term state GOP Chairman James Evans at the Utah Republican Convention is largely credited to the party's $400,000 debt, including $300,000 in legal fees and its inability to raise money and pay its bills.

Evans has complained for months that Herbert deliberately discouraged those donors from helping the party.

The governor reportedly was angry when Evans allowed Jonathan Johnson, for a $25,000 donation to the party, to speak at the 2015 organizing convention, where Johnson used that pulpit to announce he would challenge Herbert for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2016.

Then, at last year's nominating convention, Johnson outpolled Herbert among the delegates after Nate Jensen, another candidate for governor, was allowed to speak and used his six minutes to rail against Herbert even though Jensen had announced on Facebook the night before that he was suspending his campaign and supporting Johnson.

Herbert supporters complained that that was unfair and that the party leadership allowed the governor to be tag-teamed.

Despite finishing second at the convention, Herbert easily defeated Johnson in the GOP primary and coasted to re-election.

Herbert supporters say Evans' problems with donors and with delegates had more to do with frustration over the party's lawsuit against SB54, the compromise bill that allows signature-gathering as an alternate path to the primary ballot. They would rather have that money go toward helping Republican candidates.

The governor's spokesman, Paul Edwards, said Herbert appreciates Evans' service and has told him that personally. "But the state's GOP delegates have spoken and the governor is optimistic about the future of the Utah Republican Party under the leadership of Chairman Rob Anderson as he helps put the party back on solid financial footing."

Edwards said Herbert has donated to the party and supported its fundraising events.

The governor's statement added that the party is better off when it "stays focused on party-building activities such as supporting the election of Republicans to public office through direct financial contributions to candidates, providing technical and research assistance to Republican candidates and party organizations, and helping with voter registration, education and turnout efforts."

But if Evans believes he is a victim of Herbert's wrath, he's not alone.

• Herbert reportedly told Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Mia Love not to rehire veteran Republican strategist Dave Hansen on their campaigns because Hansen was the campaign manager for Johnson.

An operative close to the Herbert campaign said the governor had an issue with Hansen's "ethics" because the Johnson team's tactics were negative and personal. He said the governor expressed those concerns to other Republicans.

• Herbert objected to Evans' plan to hire Dana Dickson as the party's executive director because Dickson had worked on the Johnson campaign. So Dickson instead worked in the office as a volunteer.

Traditionally, the chairman consults with the top elected official of the party when hiring staff, said the Herbert associate. Herbert had concerns about a GOP executive director working against the incumbent Republican governor.

• Herbert interfered in contract negotiations between consultant Abby Coura, a respected statistical analyst, and other Republican campaigns because Coura had been an ally of the late House Speaker Becky Lockhart when she was considering challenging Herbert and later helped the Johnson campaign.

The associate denied that accusation, saying the Herbert campaign considered hiring Coura but had concerns about her particular methodology and went a different direction. The campaign, he said, may have shared those concerns with other campaigns.

• Herbert complained to leaders of the conservative political action committee Americans for Prosperity about its Utah director, Evelyn Everton, who took strong stands against the governor's Medicaid expansion efforts and the internet sales tax requirement Herbert had championed.

But the conversations with the PAC were about the substantive nature of its opposition to Herbert's policies, not about Everton personally, the associate said.

So, we may be assured, all is still right with nature.







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