SALT LAKE CITY — The candidate who stirred a controversy at the Republican State Convention over the 2nd Congressional District nomination acted irresponsibly in leveling charges against four other candidates, alleging a plot to thwart the election bid of eventual nominee, Chris Stewart, an investigation by the state party chairman has found.
Thomas Wright, chairman of the state GOP, released a seven-page report Tuesday after an investigation into the bizarre events at the April 21 state convention where Stewart won the nomination on the third ballot, emerging as the victor in a field of 11 candidates.
Wright’s probe levels some harsh criticism at Eureka Mayor Milt Hanks, a candidate for the nomination who stirred the controversy in the first round of speeches. Hanks alleged that four candidates — Chuck Williams, Cherilyn Eagar, Howard Wallack and Dave Clark — approached him at the Davis County party convention and asked that he pledge his support for any candidate other than Stewart if any of the candidates were to drop out of the race, and secondly that he engage in a last-minute act of negative campaigning to uncover what they alleged were misleading statements by Stewart.
Wright said he can find no evidence that a formal meeting took place among the candidates at the Davis County convention, and said all of the four candidates named deny any such conversation took place.
The plot that unraveled at the convention also included an unsigned letter sent to some delegates in the 2nd District, alleging Stewart had exaggerated his military record, among other things. During the state convention, Hanks took aim at the four and referenced the letter in making the last speech of the first voting round at the convention.
Wright is still seeking information about who may have initiated the letter.
“I strongly encourage anyone who has information that would be helpful in determining who is responsible for the letter to contact the Federal Elections Commission,” Wright said.
Adding a layer of intrigue to the letter issue is a link the communiqué had to a similar letter in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, in which Sen. Mike Lee was painted in a negative light, allegedly by Stewart’s brother, who was a former staffer for Sen. Bob Bennett.
Because there were so many candidates, speeches for the 2nd Congressional race were held in a room adjacent to the main hall, where most of the convention events took place. Wright said the person in charge of monitoring the speeches should have turned off Hanks’ mic when he began to assail his fellow candidates.
The second round of speeches for the remaining candidates moved to the main hall, where fireworks erupted. Williams called Stewart “a bald-faced liar” and threw his support to Clark. Eagar and Wallack also backed out and threw their support to Clark.
Clark did emerge as the only candidate besides Stewart from Round Two but was beaten in Round Three by the Farmington resident.
Wright is critical of Hanks, but does not allege any illegal activity, or the idea that Hanks — who did not actively campaign — was a plant by the Stewart campaign.
“I believe he acted according to his conscience, but he did not consider the full impact his actions would have on the elections or on the reputations of those individuals and their families for making allegations against them,” Wright wrote. “Mr. Hanks acted irresponsibly by accusing four candidates of misconduct with no evidence to support his claims.”
As part of the findings, Hanks formally issued a paragraph of apology for his actions at the convention.
“It was unfair of me to not verify that my suspicions were true before making accusations during my speech. The Party is better than this. Utah is better than this,” Hanks said.
Stewart was out of town and could not be reached for comment on the report’s findings.