Maybe calling Thomas Wright’s time as Chair of the Utah Republican Party “legendary” is going a bit far, but there’s no doubt Thomas will be a tough act to follow.
Wright was able to dramatically boost the number of Republicans who participated in the party, as well as build near-historic numbers of Republicans in the Utah Legislature. He also spearheaded a technological overhaul for the party -- integrating the state website with the county parties, among other advances.
But, there’s one thing Thomas still wishes he could have finished during his tenure: beating Jim Matheson.
“That was a big goal I wanted to accomplish, and we didn’t. I own that. We put in a good effort and I think we’ve set the groundwork for a candidate to be successful. We just came up short this time.”
Yeah, but isn’t that a refrain we’ve heard from Republicans since Matheson took office in 2000?
“We have to be right at least once,” says Wright.
That task is going to be left to whoever replaces him at the Utah GOP Convention next month. Wright has set the table for the eventual winner to continue the party’s success. But, whichever of the three candidates wins, that person is going to have some serious challenges to deal with -- mainly, a likely petition drive to provide an alternative path to the ballot outside of the current caucus and convention system used by both parties. (Full disclosure: UtahPolicy.com publisher LaVarr Webb is on the board of “Count My Vote,” the group pushing those changes).
Wright acknowledges that’s going to be front-and-center for his successor. But, he says the best thing to do is take emotion out of the issue.
“I am a backer of the caucus and convention system. I think it has a lot of positive things that make this state great. But, if you can remove the emotion from the issue, you can have a comprehensive dialogue about making changes. Bottom line, I would favor anything that gets more Utahns involved in their government. That, to me, is really important. If you look at the proposed changes through that lens, it’s a lot different than looking at them like you’re being blackmailed by an outside group.”
But, that’s not the only challenge ahead. Utah’s demographics are changing. It’s no secret that minorities, on the whole, don’t lean toward the GOP. It will be a difficult task figuring out how to appeal to that growing voting bloc.
The next GOP chair also will have to continue to grow the party and build on the successes Wright leaves behind.
“I think my advice -- for my successor -- would be to make sure you stand up for what you believe in but also have a welcoming approach, because you have to bring a lot of people together in this position. The Utah Republican Party is a powerful organization. There are a lot of differences of opinion. The elected officials want something different than what the grassroots people want and what the donors want. You have to balance that and be strong so you’re advancing the agenda you think is important.”
There is no position more partisan than head of a political party. Your job is to get your candidates elected and defeat your political opponents. While that may make politics a sort of bloodsport, Wright says he does favor compromise over political “slash and burn.”
“I really think you accomplish more when you try to find common ground. The people of Utah deserve to have politicians who are going to find common ground to advance the cause. I would never sacrifice my principles. I would never compromise my values. I don’t think people on either side of the aisle should. But, there are times we need to find common ground.”
This post originally appeared at UtahPolicy.com. Bryan Schott is managing editor of UtahPolicy.com and UtahPulse.com. He is an award-winning journalist who has covered politics in Utah for more than 15 years. He also blogs at SchottHappens.com.