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June 17, 2009 News » Cover Story

Get the party started: 

GOP Convention Highlights

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Oh my God, the chairman is crying. Larry Miller lives, except that he’s Stan Lockhart. This is about the Utah Republican Party chairman’s report, by the way. Just the chairman’s report. Who knew this would be so emotional?

“Being a Republican means something to me. I’m a believer. I believe in the principles and values the party presents to the world…. Our rights are given to us by God. … by our creator!” (applause)

They love him. They love that message. “I’ve spent the last two years preaching that message. … Freedom and liberty are never out of style,” Lockhart says to the more than 3,000 Republicans assembling in the Davis Convention Center on Saturday, June 13.

We’ve all heard Utah-isms like “Oh, my heck,” but Lockhart comes up with another: “It’s a crock of baloney.” That’s in reference to something about Barack Obama. The president will come up in speeches again and again before the convention ends.

National Committeeman Bruce Hough starts to whip up a states-rights frenzy. “We should never allow politeness to subvert our principles,” he says, after noting that the GOP “squandered” an opportunity for the presidency.

Now, the candidates for party chair come out to give their very brief speeches to delegates who’ve mostly decided whom they’ll vote for anyway. Steve Harmsen, once a Salt Lake County councilman, promises to protect the 2nd Amendment and says he doesn’t like gay marriage. Former 2nd District Congressman Merrill Cook is watching from the sidelines. He’s been helping Harmsen, who is about to lose.

“The Republican Party stands for life, liberty, lower taxes and smaller government,” Harmsen says.

Fred Lampropoulos introduces Dave Hansen, Lampropoulos’ campaign manager in his 2004 bid for governor. Hansen talks about campaigning on “our values … smaller government, fiscal responsibility, respect for life.” He also promises to Twitter.

Two more candidates come out, both looking nervous. One, Jared Law, withdraws his name after saying something about the Lord, the sanctity of life, and how Chris Buttars and LaVar Christensen had been “viciously attacked” for their anti-gay-rights stands.

The fourth candidate, Brian Jenkins, went on about John McCain and Mitt Romney and lost his audience there.

GOP bad boy Mike Ridgway dropped out of the race before the convention, “in order to increase chances for a better overall outcome. Which we got in the main,” he says.

Ultimately, Hansen wins—by a landslide. He gets 907 votes to Harmsen’s 486 and Jenkins’ 381. Maybe it was the Twitter.

But Ridgway had also been holding out for Morgan Philpot, who took away the vice-chair spot from incumbent Todd Weiler. This, despite Weiler’s wellreceived message to Obama: “You can keep your change,” he says, adding that Obama is conducting an assault on capitalism and a march toward socialism.

While the ballots are being counted, Ken Blackwell—a former Dallas Cowboy, former mayor and former undersecretary of HUD, not to mention a honcho with the National Rifle Association—beats the conservative drum and throws out the word “socialism” every so often. “If you are an American who loves freedom, stand up and cheer; if you’re not, stay in your seat,” he says. Oh dear, the media all stay put. Just as they suspected.

After Blackwell comes the parade of elected officials, giving their “reports,” which are mini-campaign speeches in disguise. Sens. Hatch and Bob Bennett look old compared to upstarts like 3rd District Rep. Jason Chaffetz, and manage only polite applause to the Chaffetz stand-up cheers. Even 1st District Rep. Rob Bishop’s usual droll sarcasm gets a more enthusiastic response than the senators.

And if you’re wondering, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. didn’t show. Busy. And Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert didn’t diss him, either. Herbert, generally heralded as champion of the conservatives, will soon become governor himself, but obviously isn’t feeling the mandate yet.

“I am a Republican!” he proclaims. That’s about as heady as it gets. He thanks Huntsman over and over, even elicits a little weak applause for the absent leader, and says he wants to continue in Huntsman’s footsteps making Utah a businessperson’s haven.

Then, he says, everything else will fall into place. So don’t ask him about it. “I am ready to be your governor,” Herbert says. “My vision is clear, I’m focused and I’m filled with hope.”

Hope? Isn’t that an Obama thing?

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