Gov. Spencer Cox’s endorsement of Stewart Peay for the top spot in the Utah Republican Party — at least the way word was spread to the GOP faithful — is drawing fire from one of the others vying for the post.
Carson Jorgensen, a rancher from Sanpete County, issued a statement Tuesday in response to the endorsement letter, taking issue with its format, which, to him, makes it appear that the party itself, to remain neutral in such instances, backs Peay. Four Northern Utah lawmakers, including Utah Sen. Ann Millner of Ogden and Utah Rep. Kelly Miles of the South Ogden area, also endorse Peay in the letter.
“Some feel this looks as if the state party is joining the governor and senior legislative elected officials in endorsing these candidates, and telling delegates how they should vote,” wrote Jorgensen, one of five vying to to be the party chairperson. “While this is not ‘illegal,’ it appears to be an inappropriate use of party services.”
Utah Republican Party delegates are to pick new party leaders at a convention on Saturday, including chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. Derek Brown now leads the party but isn’t seeking reelection.
Jorgensen’s objection stems in part from wording on the mailing itself. The return address on the envelopes used to mail the endorsement letters is the Utah Republican Party headquarters in Salt Lake City. A message on the endorsement letter itself states that the document is “Paid for by the Utah Republican Party” and that it is authorized by “Team Utah GOP,” Peay’s coalition of backers.
In a statement to party delegates on the matter, Brown said the party offers use of its “nonprofit mailing services” — tapped by Peay — to all GOP candidates.
“All mail sent out using this service must include the party’s name and return address, as required under federal law. That being said, no one should infer that a candidate choosing to utilize this valuable resource has done anything inappropriate, or that the party is somehow endorsing that candidate,” Brown said.
Peay, chairman of the Utah County Republican Party, likewise said he doesn’t have the endorsement of the Utah Republican Party. State guidelines, meanwhile, dictated use of the party headquarters as the return address and the language in the letter.
“We followed the state by-laws to the letter. It is my understanding that we had to use that return address to use the party’s mailing indicia. Every candidate in this or any other GOP race can do the same,” Peay said in an email to the Standard-Examiner. The indicia are the markings used in place of stamps indicating the mailing has been paid by the sender, the Utah Republican Party in the case of the endorsement letter.
Peay went on, saying the letter “makes it clear who’s endorsing us.” Aside from Cox, Millner and Miles, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, a Layton Republican, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Kaysville GOPer, endorse Peay’s candidacy in the letter.
Aside from Peay and Jorgensen, the other candidates for the party leadership spot are Scott Miller, former head of the Salt Lake County Republican Party; Tina Cannon, a former Morgan County Council member; and Brad Baker a Weber State University student who lives in Sunset.
The endorsement letter, which Jorgensen learned of on Monday, touts Peay’s “experience, temperament and conservative record.”
Jorgensen, though, worries that the language connecting the letter to the Utah Republican Party, even if party officials aren’t backing Peay, could create a perception issue, make it appear party leaders are somehow trying to steer the election.
“We want more participation. We want the public to feel they have a spot in politics,” Jorgensen said. The letter, in his mind, makes it appear the GOP “establishment” is trying to impose its will on the party.