Two Davis County Republicans vie with incumbent to lead state party

Friday , April 21, 2017 - 5:15 AM

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

Two Republicans from Bountiful who sparred two years ago over leadership of the Davis County Republican Party will face off again — this time for the chairmanship of the state party.

Rob Anderson, the current Davis County Republican Party chairman, and Phill Wright, defeated by Anderson for the Davis County spot in 2015, are running for chairman of the Utah Republican Party. They are challenging James Evans, the incumbent state chairman who’s seeking his third term.

Their prior electoral battle isn’t relevant to their candidacies this go-round, both Anderson and Wright said Thursday. Anderson’s wife Kathleen Anderson resigned in 2014 as the Davis County Republican Party secretary after complaining of what she saw as Wright’s heavy-handed leadership style as county party chair. Rob Anderson challenged Wright a year later in the race for the Davis County chairmanship, edging him out of the spot.

RELATED: In political twist, Davis County GOP changes leadership

“I’m running because I feel like I’d be the best person to run the party,” said Wright, who currently serves as vice chair of the Utah Republican Party. “I have nothing against the Andersons. They’re good people.”

Rob Anderson lamented what he called “complacency” among current party leadership and the need for vision and fiscal responsibility. “I see a problem with the way the party is being run and I want to fix it,” he said. “I wish Phill a good campaign and best wishes.”

Evans, for his part, said he wants to remain in the post “just to finish the heavy lifting,” pointing in particular to the pending lawsuit in federal court filed by the state party to block Senate Bill 54, passed by Utah lawmakers in 2014. SB 54 created a means for candidates for public office to get on the electoral ballot via petition, raising the ire of many GOP critics, in addition to the traditional route through caucuses and conventions.

Utah GOP delegates gather May 20 in Sandy for the state party’s organizing convention, when the chairman and other party leaders, including vice chairman, secretary and treasurer, are to be selected for a new term. Wednesday was the filing deadline for candidates.

‘Knee to knee’ with Trump

In seeking his third two-year term as chairman, Evans, who lives in Salt Lake City and operates payday loan stores, also noted his ties to President Donald Trump’s administration, which could benefit Utah. He spoke with Trump “knee to knee” in a visit during the presidential campaign last year, backed his candidacy and still maintains contact with the White House.

“(Trump) said, ‘I never forget who’s been there for me,’” Evans said. Trump even offered to tweet a message on Evans’ behalf if he ever had a request.

Anderson, a commercial airline pilot and retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, noted his focus on fundraising and fiscal responsibility. He helped build Davis County Republican Party reserves to $70,000, up from $48,000, he said.

Wright, like Evans, voiced support for what had been the traditional means of selecting candidates before SB 54, through caucuses and conventions, saying that was his main reason for running. He’s long worked in financial services and, like Anderson, lives in Bountiful.

“I think it’s important we preserve and protect a system that works,” Wright said. He also said it’s time for Evans “to pass the torch” to another party leader.

Also submitted for consideration at the GOP convention was a proposed resolution of support for use of cannabis in Utah for medical purposes. Evans said the proposal would still have to be reviewed to make sure it complies with party rules and guidelines before it could be considered.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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