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Utah’s Lt. Governor Will Block GOP From Ousting Signature-Gathering Candidates

Julia Ritchey / KUER

The Utah Republican Party adopted a new rule last month that targets candidates who gather signatures to get on the primary ballot – and it only applies to two federal races. Now the Lt. Governor says he won’t allow the party to enforce the rule.

The rule was pushed through by a group of hardliners on the Utah GOP’s State Central Committee. It says Republican candidates in Utah’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts who try to get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures will forfeit their party membership.

But even if it got to that point, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said as the state elections officer, he won’t allow anyone to remove anyone else from their political party.  

“If we did get that request – and I don’t know if we will – but if we were to get that request, that request would be denied because the candidate had relied on that certification from the party,” he said.

The Utah GOP, and all qualified political parties, committed to a set of rules for the 2018 elections late last year, Cox said, and he’s going to hold the party to those rules.

“My job is to follow the law and make sure that those candidates are able to follow what the law says and are able to get on the ballot.”

The Lt. Governor previously saidthe law doesn’t give him authority to disqualify a political party. A bill to clarify that power failed to pass both chambers in the Utah Legislature before the session adjourned last week.

Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson wouldn’t say if he plans to uphold the new rule, saying he’s torn between state law and his party’s bylaws.

“My goal is to make sure that we adhere to the party’s rules and guidelines as well as state law,” he said, adding that he wants to “give the candidates a playing field where they can compete, campaign and win an election based on those known rules.”

Anderson is personally against the new rule. He also blamed members of the SCC for “concocting” it behind his back.

“Not that I disagree with some of the things they’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “But when they do so without consulting me or letting me now what goes on, I’m basically in reactionary mode.”

A Republican candidate gathering signatures in Utah’s 1st Congressional District – one of the off-limits races – said the state GOP would be “stupid” to try to kick him out.

“Absolutely no judge would uphold this,” said Kevin Probasco, a military veteran and former federal attorney at Hill Air Force Base.

The Utah Republican Party has litigated the issue for years. It’s currently awaiting ruling in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Probasco is challenging Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, contending the eight-term incumbent is “beginning to act like he’s entitled to the seat.”

“He doesn’t spend time in the district, he doesn’t come out and meet people, he doesn’t have town halls,” he said.

As a longtime federal employee barred from political activity, Probasco said he’d be at a disadvantage trying to woo unfamiliar delegates at the state GOP convention.

“I may make an appearance just to tell them who I am, but I’m certainly not relying on the caucus system or the convention because it’s not challenger-friendly,” he said.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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