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Utah Republican leaders are looking to party members to help decide how the organization should adapt to new nominating rules including whether the party should kick candidates out of the party or withhold support if they don't participate in political conventions.
But some Republican lawmakers, while welcoming the outreach, see the effort as unscientific and slanted, aimed at gathering results to support some of the ideas floated by party leadership rather than resolving a conflict over the state's new rules for choosing candidates.
The survey comes as Republicans grapple with how to approach the nominating changes in SB54 due to kick in next year. The new rules will allow candidates to get a spot on the primary ballot by gathering enough signatures, rather than having to be chosen by delegates at a party convention.
The change was a compromise with Count My Vote, a group of prominent Utahns that includes former Gov. Mike Leavitt that sought a way around the convention process, which the group said disenfranchised voters and produced candidates who were outside the Utah mainstream.
Utah GOP Chairman James Evans has said that the party may not be able to comply with the new law, meaning Republican candidates may not be on the 2016 ballot. The party has also sued the state to block the law and is considering rule changes to give the party more control over who becomes a Republican candidate.
Ideas have included requiring candidates who gather signatures on a petition to be interviewed by committees made up of party officials and signing a statement supporting the party platform in order to qualify for the ballot.
In an email to 60,000 Republicans on Thursday, Evans asked recipients to fill out a survey to gauge support for those ideas, as well as potentially withholding party support from petition-gathering candidates and charging candidates a fee to run.
But Rep. Jon Cox, R-Manti, who has called for an end to the party's feud over SB54, noted that anyone can take the survey including Democrats and people who don't even live in Utah as many times as they want, which casts doubt on the results.
And, Cox said, some of the questions appear to be biased in the way they are written and some of the proposals floated should be tossed out.
For example, he objects to the idea of requiring candidates to be interviewed by the party committees, of the party charging candidates a fee to run, and especially of kicking Republicans out of the party if they gather petition signatures to get on the ballot.
"I think those are enormously problematic issues," Cox said. "I just think it shows a failure of leadership. It's frustrating and continues to be frustrating."
Still, he praises Evans for reaching out to a broader cross-section of the party, rather than letting the party hierarchy make the decisions, a sentiment that was echoed by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful.
"I've welcomed that change in tenor," Weiler said. "But [some questions] are obviously written with a slant or bias and it has a little bit of a feel of a push poll."
Evans said he recognizes the survey isn't scientific, but defended seeking input on all the options and said he is saddened that some "want to attack any approach we're taking."
"It's a big party with different factions and my approach to this has been, we are going to put all ideas on the table. No ideas were going to be shouted down," Evans said. "I'm convinced, at the end of the day, the hundreds of thousands of well-meaning Republicans are going to come up with a solution on the issue."