The Utah Democratic Party will elect new leadership at its organizing convention in Ogden this weekend — but recent allegations of sexual harassment by a high-profile member have cast a cloud over the party.
Eight candidates are vying for Democratic party chair after a leading contender, Rob Miller, dropped out last week.
Miller, a former vice chair and treasurer, was accused by seven female members of the party of unwanted sexual contact and harassment over the years — charges Miller has denied.
“I mean clearly this issue has really overshadowed the chair’s race,” said Lauren Littlefield, the outgoing executive director of the Utah Democrats.
She said the party’s judicial committee — where the complaints were referred — was clear that they in no way condone sexual harassment. However, because Miller resigned his membership from the party after quitting the race, there was no further action for them to take.
Jason Williams, a former state delegate from Logan, believes that’s a cop out.
“The judicial committee’s statement… was really frustrating for me to see," he said. "It seemed like they had sort of punted on a really important issue.”
Williams wrote a blog post this week on the site Utah Politico Hub calling the party’s response a “pitiful excuse for leadership” and sharing a story from a friend who had also allegedly been harassed by Miller.
"Whoever wins steps into this in a leadership position with this issue still remaining, still boiling, waiting to be dealt with," he said. "And I think that was a clear lack of leadership on the part of the current leadership to not recognize that.”
Asked to respond to this criticism, Littlefield said it's more complicated.
“I guess I would say in some ways we are pushing it off to the next people because you don’t want to rush something like this," she said. "We’ve been an outgoing administration since January, and it doesn't seem fair to try and change the rules right now.”
Littlefield said harassment is a pervasive problem in Utah, and not just limited to one party. She said Democrats should be talking about and taking the issue seriously.