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GOP may drop organizing conventions

Published February 9, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Republican Party has rarely enjoyed the power it wields in state politics these days.

The GOP controls every statewide elected office, both U.S. Senate seats and three of the four congressional seats. It boasts a 61-14 advantage in the Utah House and a 24-5 advantage in the State Senate. And it controls most of the county offices around the state.

But Republican leaders are concerned about the party's image and next week will engage in what promises to be a lively discussion about changing the way the party selects its officers and allocates its delegates.

The GOP State Central Committee's Feb. 16 meeting will be highlighted by a proposal from the party's Constitution and Bylaws Committee to do away with state organizing conventions and hold only the nominating conventions, which occur in election years. The organizing conventions are held in the non-election years and are for selection of party officers.

Instead, party officers would be determined by the 180-member Central Committee, made up mostly of precinct chairs and vice chairs.

Detractors say the change would take the decision of who leads the party out of the hands of the 4,000 delegates, which they describe as the grass roots of the GOP, and put it in the hands of the insiders.

But proponents say most delegates run for the position because they are interested in supporting a particular candidate for public office. They are not so much interested in the nuts-and-bolts party machinery, which is determined by the organizing convention. And they point to the fact that organizing conventions only attract about 50 percent of the delegates.

The idea has been discussed for years, I'm told, because the major parties in most states don't have convention delegates chosen through caucuses. They have either a caucus system or a primary election. Utah is unique in its three-tiered practice of caucuses, conventions and primaries.

But the election two years ago of Lowell Nelson and Drew Chamberlain as the state party's vice chair and secretary, respectively, has brought a sense of urgency to the debate. Both men had long been considered mavericks within the party apparatus and had even sued the party for the way it chooses delegates.

Since their election, they have embarrassed party leaders by such public comments as wanting to do away with public education. Chamberlain, in particular, has fostered angst within the party with his childish Facebook postings about the appearance of First Lady Michelle Obama and belligerent attacks on anyone who disagrees with his contention that the air along the Wasatch Front has never been cleaner.

But the main criticism coming from party insiders is that both functionaries are so focused on right-wing ideology they ignore what they were actually elected to do: help with party organizing and fundraising. They also are reported to have a strained relationship with state party chair Thomas Wright, who is focused on organization and fund-raising.

Their comments, the insiders say, have besmirched the party's image, even though GOP election successes seem to belie that notion.

Nelson and Chamberlain were chosen in the 2011 organizing convention by the same delegates who were elected in 2010 during the tea party surge that dumped three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in the party convention that year. The concern within the party is that those delegates, chosen in sparsely attended neighborhood caucuses, did not represent the sentiments of most Utah Republicans, and that Bennett would have won the party's nomination if he had made it onto the primary election ballot.

The same folks who are talking about doing away with organizing conventions also want to discuss tweaking the nominating process so a popular senator like Bennett would not be sacked by a relative few pushing a narrow agenda. —




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