The Utah Republican Party is preparing to elect new executive leadership next month, including party chair — and the fallout over a three-year-old election law may be a deciding factor for members.
Incumbent GOP Chair James Evans ran unopposed two years ago, but now faces two others who are vying for the top spot.
One challenger is current party Vice-Chair Phill Wright and the other is the Chair of the Davis County GOP Rob Anderson.
Evans says if elected to a third term, it will be his last, but he believes stable leadership is what the party needs right now.
“With the backdrop of SB 54, making sure that we can implement what we started in 2013 and just make sure when I leave, the party is positioned in a great way," he says. "I just want to finish that heavy lift that we started.”
That Senate Bill 54 Evans cited will perhaps be the most influential factor for the 4,000 delegates casting votes at the state convention on May 20.
That bill sought to preserve the caucus convention system for nominating candidates while creating a petition path for others.
The Utah GOP is still challenging the law in court, which has strained the party financially and created significant rifts within its ranks.
Vice Chair Phill Wright says Evans is a friend and has done an admirable job over the last four years, but thinks it’s time for fresh leadership.
“I think it’s time for him to step aside and let another leader move the party forward," Wright says. "Someone who has the same vision, who has conviction, commitment and courage — and I believe that I’m that person.”
Both Wright and Evans face a formidable opponent in Rob Anderson, who opposes the GOP’s ongoing lawsuit and says that Evans has alienated elected officials.
“I think he’s had four years and I think he’s failed in those four years because we still see a legal action going on — and the tension between the party and elected officials, which are overwhelmingly Republican,” says Anderson of Evans.
All three say regardless of who leads the party, it’s crucial that the GOP not become complacent to its recent gains — maintaining its super majority in the Legislature and all Republican Congressional delegation.