OGDEN — Dan Deuel had held pretty strong views on how he thought GOP candidates should get on the ballot.
But following the Weber County Republican Party convention on April 14 — governed by new rules that altered how candidates are picked — he’s been rethinking things. Deuel had sought the GOP nomination from convention delegates in the race for the District 7 seat in the Utah House, but last-minute rule changes the morning before voting started dashed his chances.
“I’ve been a diehard convention supporter,” he said, alluding to the traditional route to secure a place on the primary ballot in Utah by seeking the support of party delegates at the party’s convention, focus of simmering controversy statewide. “However, with the games that have been played in this cycle, I’m kind of changing my mind on it.”
He’s not alone in his exasperation.
In the wake of the April 14 convention at Weber High School, others, too, are questioning the county party’s rules governing how candidates are picked, saying they need to be revisited and possibly changed. It’s been a hot topic among GOPers statewide. Some convention-only proponents worry candidates who petition for a place on the ballot — the alternative means — aren’t sufficiently vetted, and the ramifications are noteworthy. Party rules figure big in who ends up on the GOP primary ballot, and in a Republican-dominated place like Utah, who, in many cases, ends up in the seats of power.
“It’s giving the voters the disadvantage,” Deuel said. The party rules in Weber County, he maintains, can unfairly limit the number of Republicans getting on the primary ballot, thus limiting primary voters’ choices.
He wonders whether there may be merit to the alternative process that allows would-be candidates to gather signatures and petition for a place on the primary ballot, bypassing the need for the backing of delegates at the convention. Changes to the county rules adopted last October — the focus of controversy locally — make it easier to get on the primary ballot for those in the convention process who don’t attempt to get on the ballot via petition as well.
Steve Waldrip, who earned a spot at the convention on the June 26 GOP primary ballot in the race for the District 8 Utah House seat, said he’s hearing “a lot of chatter” among rank-and-file Republicans about the need to consider a change.
He can’t think of any GOPers, whether conservative or moderate, “that don’t think we really have to take a hard look at how things work and do better,” he said. In his view, the rules aren’t clear enough.
Waldrip garnered more than 70 percent backing at the convention. Nevertheless, one of his competitors, Jason Kyle, earned a place on the June 26 primary ballot against Waldrip though he mustered less than 30 percent backing in the final round of convention voting. Kyle was the sole GOPer in the race to vie only via convention — not petition as well — and the party’s convention rules, as tweaked last October, give candidates like him the edge by lowering the vote threshold they need to advance.
The turn of events, Waldrip said, has frustrated some delegates, who think the rules thwart their will.
Deana Froerer is the sole Democratic hopeful in the District 8 seat.
Stu Jensen, treasurer of the Weber County Republican Party, suspects GOP leaders here will be taking up the matter.
“It would be my assumption they would look to clarify that,” he said. With “all that confusion” at the April 14 convention “I think that will be addressed in some fashion.”
Lynda Pipkin, chairwoman of the Weber County Republican Party, did not return a call seeking comment, and Waldrip has not heard from her or other top GOP brass.
“She’s gone dark,” Waldrip said.
MULLING LEGAL ACTION
Given his frustration with results from April 14, Deuel had been considering legal action against the Republican Party here to secure a spot on the June 26 GOP ballot. Kyle Andersen, who ended up securing the sole place via the convention on the GOP primary ballot, received just over 57 percent in the final round of voting while Deuel mustered a bit over 42 percent.
Under the old rules that governed GOP conventions here, both Deuel and Andersen would have advanced to the GOP primary, both having garnered more than 40 percent support but not 60 percent. But the rule tweaks approved the morning of the convention changed that, resulting in Andersen being the sole convention candidate to advance.
Beyond that turn of events, Deuel cited other apparent irregularities in the vote by District 7 GOP delegates. GOP officials didn’t properly check credentials of voting delegates and proper procedure wasn’t followed in the voting that eliminated two of the four District 7 hopefuls from contention.
Attorneys he consulted told him he had a strong case to challenge the party, but Deuel, in the end, opted against legal action because of the high cost that would have been involved.
‘AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE’
Jensen said the controversial changes last October in the convention process were aimed at encouraging Republicans to seek a place on the primary ballot via the convention process and not by petition. Per the changes, convention-only hopefuls — those not seeking a ballot spot via petition as well — could win a primary ballot spot with as little as 30 percent backing at convention. Those trying via both means — convention and petition — needed 70 percent support.
“Unfortunately, I think it came across as trying to penalize someone who was not (vying solely via convention),” Jensen said. “That, I think, is what has to be addressed.”
For Lori Brinkerhoff, though, what she viewed as a disparagement of dual-path hopefuls like herself by convention-only advocates led to superficial consideration by some delegates. She unsuccessfully sought a spot on the GOP ballot for the Weber County Commission seat B post, both via signature and convention.
“We felt there was no vetting of candidates,” she said. Delegates who favor the convention-only route “were just promoting those individuals who did not get signatures... It was just an awful experience.”