Party reprentatives met Thursday night to pick leaders for the new two-year term, and Wilcox beat out Bill Olson, a semi-retired entrepreneur, for the leadership post. He replaces Lynda Pipkin, who didn’t seek re-election after serving three years as chairwoman.
In his speech to the 360 or so Republican representatives at the party convention at Weber High School, Wilcox cited his opposition to Senate Bill 54 in 2014, when he was a Utah House member. SB 54, a controversial issue among Utah Republicans, is the measure that allows candidates to petition for a place on the ballot by collecting signatures, bypassing a party’s formal screening process.
Now that it’s in place, with no likelihood of repeal at least within the next two years, Wilcox said the party is obliged to win “under the conditions we are in.” Thus, it will be incumbent upon GOPers to give candidates incentive to work through the party’s internal caucus system, which had traditionally been the route Utah Republicans used to get on the ballot.
Wilcox also cited the loss by Republicans of a Weber County-based seat in the Utah House to a Democrat last year. He said Republicans, who generally dominate the political landscape in Weber County, must do what they can to prevent a repeat. Democrat Lou Shurtliff won last year in the race for the District 10 seat in Weber County, which had been held by a Republican, while Steve Waldrip narrowly defeated a Democrat in the race for the District 8 Utah House seat.
Wilcox defeated Olsen in Thursday’s voting for chairman, 186 votes to 140, a 57% to 43% margin.
Also Thursday, Republicans approved a resolution in a split voice vote that states that the Weber County Republican Party may only provide funding and volunteer support “to those candidates who agree in writing to support the God-given right of association.” The resolution also relates to SB 54 and, as originally written, had stated that the party would only back candidates who agree in writing to the repeal of SB 54.
Critics say that by letting candidates bypass a party’s formal screening process via caucus, SB 54 is an infringement on the right of association of those involved in political groups. SB 54 supporters, by contrast, say some Republicans feel disenfranchised by the traditional, complex caucus system used to pick party candidates, and the rift emerged as a hotpoint in Weber County in 2018 elections.
Delegates elected Suzanne Ferre on Thursday to be party vice chairwoman, replacing Chris Jenkins, who didn’t seek re-election. She defeated Bob McEntee while a third hopeful, Charles Lovatt withdrew from the race. Sharlene Pitman, the incumbent party secretary, and Stephen Johnson, the incumbent treasurer, both won re-election.