Salt Lake County Republicans denounced Gov. Gary Herbert and GOP lawmakers for supporting a state-based guest-worker program, and other county parties may soon follow suit in expressing their displeasure.
The Salt Lake County GOP actions represent just some of the resentment directed at elected officials by Republicans who feel betrayed by the passage of HB116, the guest-worker legislation.
Tea-party officials have vowed to field a candidate to run against Herbert in 2012, and David Kirkham, an organizer of the group, said they have interviewed several potential challengers, including legislators.
"There will be a price to pay," said Kirkham.
The resolution, adopted Thursday night by a sizable majority of the county party's governing central committee, "publicly denounces Republican elected officials who voted in favor of, and the governor for signing into law" the guest worker program.
The resolution says the legislation is unconstitutional, contrary to the "Rule of Law," encourages immigrants to enter the country illegally, increases costs to taxpayers and violates the state and national platforms of the Republican Party.
"I think we do need to denounce their vote in favor of that bill," said Ben Soholt, the chairman for legislative District 29, who sponsored the resolution. "Should they correct that and decide to repeal that, we want to make sure we keep good elected officials in, but we want to send a message to them that this was a vote that was against what their constituents wanted."
A group of Utah County party activists asked the party's executive committee for permission to bring a similar resolution before the party's central committee at its meeting Saturday, but the executive committee voted 17-5 to refuse to let it be heard.
"I think this resolution is a little too strongly worded, and certainly I would hope that we're not publicly denouncing people's votes," said Utah County GOP Chairman Taylor Oldroyd. "That's not the direction I want the party to go, anyway."
Oldroyd said the executive committee plans to meet with elected officials next month to let the lawmakers explain their views and then decide whether to vote on the resolution. It is a discussion worth having, he said, but it should be about policy and not personalities.
The central committee could try to usurp the executive committee and force a debate on the immigration resolution during its meetings Saturday, and that may happen.
"I'm not going to try to personally override the executive committee, but I would like to hear it discussed because it's timely and there's a lot of interest among the delegates right now," said Keri Witte, who wrote the resolution and shared it with friends in Salt Lake County and across the state.
"My objective in this is to prompt the Utah County party to step up and defend the platform publicly," she said.
Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, declined to comment on the action by the county parties.
Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who voted for HB116, attended the Salt Lake County Republican central committee meeting Thursday night and believes some of those supporting the resolution may have not fully understood what the bill does.
"I know for a fact they don't know what the bill does and all they're focused on is the guest worker program and calling it amnesty," Niederhauser said.
The senator stayed after the meeting until 11 p.m. to discuss the issue and said it seemed to allay the "angst" of members.
"I know that the general population in my Senate district wanted a comprehensive approach," Niederhauser said. "If you're going to take a polarized view … we'll never have a solution to immigration. People are going to have to come together or there is no solution, and no solution is de facto amnesty."
In addition to the guest-worker bill, lawmakers passed and the governor signed bills to allow local police to check legal status of people detained for felonies or serious misdemeanors; to allow Utah residents to personally sponsor immigrants; and to enter Utah into a partnership with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to obtain federal visas for workers to come to the Beehive State.
S.L. County GOP picks new leader
Salt Lake County Republicans selected Julie Dole, a political activist, to serve as its party chairwoman on Thursday. Dole replaces Thomas Wright, who won the contest to become chairman of the state Republican Party. She will serve for just a month, when county delegates will hold their normal election for party officials. In that time, Dole said she will oversee the special election to replace Sen. Chris Buttars, planning for the county dinner and organizing the April 16 convention.
Dole had served as political director for the county party and is a member of the party's central committee, is a state delegate and worked on Buttars' 2008 campaign.
Dole beat the current acting chairman, Rick Votaw, by 17 votes, 52 percent to 48 percent. Votaw had not filed to run for the office but staged an impromptu bid after being nominated from the floor.