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Utah GOP Tensions Boil Over At State Convention

Julia Ritchey
Utah GOP Secretary Lisa Shepherd stands at a microphone on Saturday. Shepherd and other delegates objected to a set of proposed bylaws introduced during the convention, leading to a lengthy debate.

Long simmering tensions in the Utah Republican Party bubbled over at the party’s state convention this weekend. Some delegates worry that the infighting threatens to further undermine the caucus-convention system.

Hillari Bollard was a first-time delegate from Highland at the Utah GOP’s convention on Saturday. She’s a believer in the caucus system and said criticism that delegates select candidates further to the right than most rank-and-file Republicans is unfair.

“I think that characterization of delegates as extreme is false and perpetuated by Count My Vote to make people think that that’s what going on," she said.

Count My Vote is the proposed ballot initiative that would solidify Utah’s dual pathway to the ballot, through signature gathering or caucuses. It’s also the cause of anxiety among some in the Utah GOP who want to eliminate signature gathering altogether.

This tension was palpable as delegates spent hours feuding over bylaw proposals and other inter-party squabbles. All told, Republican delegates spent more than six hours at the Maverik Center before voting even began.

“I feel like this is a transitional approach right now. And eventually it’s going to need to be one way or the other," said Arron Strong, a Salt Lake County delegate.


She said she’s unsure of the future of the caucus-convention system. She’s lived in states without a caucus and sees how direct elections could widen participation, another criticism of caucuses.


About 4,000 delegates registered for the state convention, but only 3,600 were credentialed. By the final round of voting for Senate nominations on Saturday night, a little over 3,300 delegates remained.

Drew Chamberlain, a delegate from Layton, is not so keen on direct elections. He held a sign outside the convention that read “Save Our Caucus.”

“I want lower taxes and I want less regulation, and I know that the caucus-convention gives me that type of government, where a direct primary tends to give me more taxes and more regulation," he said.

Delegates like Chamberlain worry that if more candidates opt to gather signatures to get to the ballot, like Mitt Romney and Rep. John Curtis, the caucus-convention could lose its appeal. After the spectacle delegates put on over the weekend, their worst fears could be coming true.  


Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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