At the 2013 Utah Republican Party Organizing Convention on May 18, no one is believed to have removed any decadent bodies from their resting place nor creatively moved with them. But the proceedings of the event sure invoked memories of conventions and legislation gone by (and certainly did feature plenty of passion—and certainly Love).
Sure, there were landmarks. James Evans became the first African-American GOP chairman in the state’s history. A resolution passed for the party to officially request that the United States Congress find “reasonable” and “responsible” solutions to issues of illegal immigration (though that was an expression already reflecting the sentiments of the national GOP).
Otherwise, familiar legislation and individuals, well, resurfaced—in forms of mild surprises at most. Perhaps a discord with the faith presumably of most of the delegates was most unanticipated.
Many pundits were right: the threshold for the party’s nominee in election years stayed at 60 percent of state delegate votes. Despite a plea during the convention from former U.S. Congresswoman Enid Greene to raise the threshold to 66 percent, 55 percent of this convention’s body voted otherwise.
Greene said that the party never should have lowered the minimum requirement from 70 percent in 2000. That requirement does, after all, invite a nominee who garners more solid support from those who have promised to represent their own electors in their precinct. Even then, opponents to the change would need to tolerate just five additional primary races from 2000-2012.
Additionally, a “yes” vote for the measure may have actually helped to preserve the system, because now Count My Vote begins its march in earnest. The initiative, led by former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt and Utah Policy and Utah Pulse publisher LaVarr Webb, seeks to reform the system, seeking to implement a more “inclusive” and “accessible” process by which all voters can select a nominee during caucuses. Evans headlined the elections of a new state party leadership team, filled out by former Washington County party chairman Willie Billings (vice president), Michelle Mumford (secretary) and Dave Crittenden (treasurer).
Despite a spirited and diligent campaign from Wasatch County GOP chair Aaron Gabrielson that campaign manager Michael Melendez said featured volunteers found all over the political scale, he and Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly chair Marco Diaz managed only about one-third of the overall vote. It proved that Evans may not have had a stronghold not just on the mainstream sentiments of the party, as Gabrielson said he feared was true. Evans also had that influence on the delegation—regardless of their policies.
Evans said after his election that he merely stared in silence at reporters who asked him about being the state’s first African-American GOP chairman, emphasizing that he wanted to look past “label” politics. But some media reports, including the Salt Lake Tribune article, included the fact nonetheless—something Evans said he expected would happen.
Billings found himself in a run-off against Rick Votaw after eliminating Lowell Nelson, the interim Utah coordinator for the national organization Campaign for Liberty. Yet, he took about 65 percent of the vote in the second vote despite branding himself as someone who wanted to apply several new ideas to party administration, despite being the vice president. Votaw, however, emphasized again in his run-off speech that he simply wanted to do the will of the chairman.
It was surprising that Kristen Cannon Brown garnered just 15 percent of the delegate’s vote against Mumford, given her professional background and comparative family life situation. Brown was a former Reagan administration intern and investment banking copywriter in New York who, unlike Mumford, featured a campaign ad in the Organizing Convention booklet that all delegates received. She also is left with just one child, a BYU student, living at home, having made domestic motherhood her focus after having her first child. Mumford, a former attorney, currently oversees six children at home.
Cherilyn Eagar had her day. The Eagle Forum public relations manager submitted the third and fourth resolutions of the day: a Resolution on Medicaid Expansion and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obamacare”) and another on the Common Core Standards and Assessments. Each called on Utah Governor Gary Herbert with the state legislature to take action against each program. Both passed—the latter with 65 percent of the vote.
The first asks Herbert and the legislature to reject Medicaid expansion and calls on the Utah Congressional delegation to continue to support and pass federal legislation to defund and repeal Obamacare. The problem is that the Herbert administration has already put in the work to operate their own plan (Avenue H, for small businesses) in accordance with Obamacare (as an exchange for individual citizens). They did it because the Utah legislature during the 2013 general session refused to give him permission to update Avenue H to be fully compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards—which would have allowed it to also cover individuals. Without that approval from legislature, this deal is probably the best the governor could get. To make true resolution, then, Eagar really ought to talk to the body that gave Gov. Herbert nothing but a bite from the bad part of the sandwich.
The Resolution on Common Core Standards and Assessments specifically called on the governor and the state school board to withdraw from the Core’s state standards initiative and “any other alliance that promotes and tests for un-American and inferior, curricula, standards and assessments.” It also asked the state legislature to discontinue any funding programs in association with the Core. Currently, the State of Utah may remove themselves from the standards—but Congressman Rob Bishop (UT-1) testified that the Obama administration wanted to use the program to “hook” states into federal funding, which would then not allow the state to abandon the Core. The U.S. president made his intentions of a national education program clear in his most recent State of the Union address, Bishop said. The 11-year U.S. House member’s testimony may have figured into the strong vote in favor of Eagar’s resolution.
The 2013 Immigration and Inclusion Resolution, submitted by Diaz, calls on Congress to “find reasonable and responsible solutions to the issues of legal and illegal immigration in a manner that secures our borders and allows undocumented immigrants who are already here, who meet certain requirements, to square themselves with the law.” That passed without a problem—a positive move toward a policy that the party nationally understands it must embrace if it wants to maintain its social values.
The Utah Compact Resolution didn’t have as good a day, however. The Compact itself has broad support from community leaders, business associations, law enforcement officers and members of Utah’s religious community. “It is a simple document that expresses our values as community as they relate to specific policy issues that have become central to the immigration discussion,” asking for “a humane approach” to the “reality” that “immigrants are integrated into communities across Utah…reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion.”
What did the resolution seek to do? Cause the Utah GOP to officially support the Compact. That’s all. The delegates wholly weren’t quite there, however, as 51.2 percent of the delegates opposed it.
The rejection invited what may be the largest surprise from the convention. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stated that it “supports” the “principles“ of the set of guidelines. It has said that it “regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform” because of its loving sentiments and encouragement of strengthening families.
The delegation is, assumedly, primarily members of the faith. Latter-day Saints reportedly comprise 62 percent of Utah’s population.
What wasn’t a surprise
Mia Love officially declaring that she would once again challenge Democrat Jim Matheson for his U.S. Congressional seat in Utah’s 4th district. When did anyone in the media first report this?
Rhett Wilkinson is a senior at Utah State University studying journalism/communications and political science. A co-founder of Aggie BluePrint—USU’s first student magazine—he has worked as an intern in Congressional and Gubernatorial offices and as a correspondent for the Deseret News and Standard-Examiner.