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What A Difference Two Years Make
In Utah Politics

Utah Pulse
by Bob Bernick
April 16, 2012

Saturday was a good day for GOP incumbents at two of the main county conventions – Utah and Salt Lake counties.

Gone was the anger, frustration and displeasure reflected by county delegates in 2010 for the state’s majority party.

The exception was state Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, a powerhouse in the public education realm who was knocked from office by newcomer Rich Cunningham in House District 50.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who seeks a record-setting 7th term, was well received at the Salt Lake County GOP Convention in the Salt Palace.

No boos, which welcomed him back at the state convention in 2000.

True, Hatch didn’t get the welcome of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, still a darling of the party’s right wing.

But it was clear that the hard (and expensive) work Hatch and his campaign manager Dave Hansen put in recruiting state delegates over the last nine months was reflected in county delegates as well.

The test for Hatch, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert (who was also well received at the Salt Lake County convention) and other statewide and federal office candidates will be this coming weekend in the state Republican Convention.

But if their and other top office incumbents’ reception in the Salt Palace is any indication, well, those challenging the men are in for a hard slog this coming weekend.

In both Utah and Salt Lake counties it was not a year to challenge incumbents. A few of the results:

-- Long-time state Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, easily slapped down state Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove. Frank had told UtahPolicy that he thought he had a good chance to actually 60-percent Valentine because the former Senate president’s district had greatly been changed. Not so, it turned out.

-- Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, also easily eliminated community worker Aleta Taylor. Taylor told her Senate 10 delegates that she was a bit offset by the old 2010 delegates when she stood with Osmond and others in the special vote to replace the early-retired Sen. Chris Buttars.

“It seemed like they didn’t want anyone with any experience,” Taylor said of the old delegates.

But Osmond, who is cool and collected under fire and seems to be looking for a long political career, wasn’t fazed by the rematch. He won with 83 percent of the vote.

-- Rep. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, had no problem in stepping up towards the Senate seat held by retiring Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville. Harper beat Brandon Baker with more than 70 percent of the delegate vote in Senate District 6.

-- Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, after an emotional speech to his House 32 delegates eliminated Austin Linford, 68-32 percent.

-- New Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, beat Jason Bible in House District 41, as well.

-- Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, beat John Scott.

Newbold was the exception, and will leave the House after serving since her 2000 first election.

(Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake, was also eliminated in the county Democratic convention, but he was just appointed last spring.)

Like all state House and Senate members this year, Newbold had a slightly different district after the 104 part-time lawmakers last fall redrew their own district boundaries following the 2010 Census.

Newbold sat on the Redistricting Committee and along with Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, (who is retiring this year) were in charge of overseeing Salt Lake County’s House members’ new district lines.

Thus, Newbold’s district was not that much different than her old House District 50.

A third candidate in 50 was eliminated in the first round of voting. And then Cunningham, a personal finance advisor, stunned Newbold by getting 68 percent of the vote in the following round and eliminating her, winning the GOP nomination outright.

Before the vote, in the general convention hall, Newbold told UtahPolicy she was worried that the legislative district break-outs were running so late, well behind the announced schedule of 3 p.m.

“I hope all the delegates will stay,” she said.

But a number of delegates left the Salt Palace as the convention ran hours longer than expected.

In addition, GOP county leaders scheduled the state House and Senate break-out delegate votes at the end of the convention, instead of early in the morning as is the custom in some large, Wasatch Front party conventions.

“This was a mistake,” said an upset Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, a friend and colleague to the Salt Lake County incumbent GOP representatives. “We’re losing delegates.”

Hughes himself ran unopposed. But the House majority whip was on hand – as was House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace – to support their incumbent colleagues.

(Both Hughes and Dee have their eyes on higher party leadership positions, and so it’s good internal politics to defend GOP incumbents who after the November elections will vote on new House leaders.)

“This (legislative district votes) should never have been so late,” said Hughes in a Salt Palace hallway at 5 p.m. as the last round of legislative votes were taking place.

In races you’ve probably already heard about, it will be West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder and former Salt Lake County Councilman Mark Crockett in a GOP primary for county mayor. The closed GOP primary is June 26.

The winner will face Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, who in a second round of voting in Saturday’s Salt Lake County Democratic Convention in Murray High School defeated Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake.

Crockett came within 2 percentage points from winning the nomination – in a second round of voting he got 58 percent to Winder’s 42 percent.

Current Councilman Richard Snelgrove was eliminated in the first round of voting, placing third with 25 percent, as were the other mayoral candidates.

Snelgrove and mayor candidate Merrill Cook came on to the stage after being eliminated in the first round to throw their support to Crockett.

Cook gave a rousing convention speech before the first round of voting, as he stood alone on the platform. (Many other candidates brought their families and/or well-known supporters to the stage.)

“For the proper role of government, I stand alone,” said Cook. But in the end he stood for just 7 percent of the first-round mayoral vote.

By UtahPolicy’s count, Cook has run 13 races and two citizen initiatives since he started in a State School Board contest in 1984. He has lost 11 races (including two for county mayor) and won twice for the U.S. Congress in the 2nd District in 1996 and 1998.



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