Just when it appeared internal Utah Republican politics couldn't get much stranger, well-known GOP dissident and U.S. Senate candidate Mike Ridgway was served Thursday night with an anti-stalking injunction that could keep him from addressing Saturday's Utah Republican Convention, where delegates will vote on Senate candidates.
Party activist, delegate and former state Senate candidate Mark Towner said he testified before a 3rd District judge Monday
(he doesn't recall the judge's name) and presented evidence that Ridgway who was stripped of his party offices last year by party leaders was a danger "to me, my wife, my daughter and others."
Judge Sandra Peuler signed the order, which says Ridgway must stay away from Towner and several other people cited in the order.
Asked if he sought the injunction as one way to keep Ridgway from the convention, to be held in the South Towne Expo Center, Towner said, "Absolutely."
Towner said he did not act with any authority by the state Republican Party but as an individual who fears for his safety.
GOP executive director Jeff Hartley said Thursday night that he did not know of the action until informed by a newspaper reporter.
"We're going to have to look at this," Hartley said. "I hesitate to interfere with anyone who feels threatened by another."
A disagreement between two people personally "is not the party's concern," Hartley said. "But when it becomes a matter between a delegate (Towner) and a candidate (Ridgway), it certainly is the party's concern," he added.
Ridgway and two other Republicans Brian Jenkins and Ronald Levine filed against longtime U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Under convention rules, the four candidates will each get seven minutes to address the convention Saturday morning before delegate balloting takes place.
Ridgway and Towner both believe Ridgway should not attend, since Towner will be at the convention and Ridgway could be arrested if he is in close proximity to him.
"I have no idea how to respond," Ridgway said.
"If I go to the convention, I get hauled away in handcuffs," Ridgway said Thursday night from his home, where he said he had a "documentary crew" recording his latest hassles with the Utah Republican Party hierarchy. Towner said he believes Ridgway could have someone else speak for him before the convention. "His name is still on the ballot. Delegates can vote for him," said Towner.
Ridgway said: "If I had $500 I could have a message put up on the (Expo Center's) jumbo-tron. Otherwise, I can't pass out any literature, I can't speak myself, I can't even attend the convention."
Asked if he would be willing to make some kind of accommodation for Ridgway so he could speak, Towner said, "Maybe he could come in escorted by sheriff's deputies, give his speech, and then be escorted out. But I wouldn't even want that. He's not mentally stable."
Ridgway said he has never threatened or harmed anyone. Claiming just the opposite, Ridgway said he has been physically confronted at some GOP meetings in the past by party insiders who don't like his questioning of party activities. Hartley said party leaders would meet with legal counsel Friday to see if some kind of an arrangement can be work out.
Party leaders had no knowledge that Towner, a state delegate who was eliminated in his Senate District 2 race two weeks ago in the Salt Lake County Convention, had taken this action, said Hartley.
"We certainly didn't know anything about this" before Towner went to court. "I only heard a rumor that something was going on between Mr. Ridgway and Mr. Towner in a phone call this evening," said Hartley.
Towner said he didn't seek any official Republican Party approval, but acknowledged he sought the injunction in part to keep Ridgway away from Saturday's convention.
Besides his convention speech to delegates, Ridgway also planned to call a 9 a.m. news conference at the convention to read a list of 16 questions he wanted Hatch to answer. He gave a copy of those questions to the Deseret Morning News Thursday afternoon. Most of them quiz Hatch on the legal/ethical questions of the senator's long-time workings with a living scriptures group.
"I have a right to be there" at the convention, said Towner. "Mike is not a delegate."
At the Salt Lake County GOP Convention, as Towner and other state Senate District 2 delegates were addressing the 50 or so county delegates, Ridgway walked into the caucus and passed out a letter critical of Towner. He was quickly told by county GOP staffers that no material could be passed out in the caucus, and Ridgway walked out.
Towner believes that the letter discouraged some delegates from voting for him and cost him a chance to either win the nomination outright or get into a primary. Joe Jarvis won the nomination in the caucus vote."Absolutely" the letter cost him the race, Towner said Thursday night. In evidence presented against Ridgway to the judge, Towner asks for $5,000 from Ridgway, "the amount I invested in my campaign, a campaign I lost because of (Ridgway's) dirty tricks."