Utah County GOP boots commissioner

Published: Sunday, April 25 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Mike Lee talks with supporters during the Utah County Republican convention at Mountain View High School in Orem Saturday. Lee is challenging Bob Bennett for his U.S. Senate seat.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

OREM — Utah County Republican delegates voted out one county commissioner and forced another into a primary election Saturday, and one Republican candidate for governor is complaining he was maneuvered out of an opportunity to address the delegates.

The Utah County Republican Convention didn't lack for drama, both on the Mountain View High School stage and behind the scenes.

Two-term County Commissioner Steve White's defeat by challenger Douglas Witney surprised many, including Witney, who received 65.8 percent of the delegate vote and will advance to the general election.

"I'm shocked. I did not expect it. I really thought there would be a primary election," Witney said.

Prior to the vote, Linda Housekeeper, the only woman in the commission race, withdrew from the race.

"Will stand aside so you are free to vote for Doug Witney," Housekeeper said. "That's who I'm going to cast my delegate vote for."

There will be a primary election for the other Utah County Commission seat, as incumbent Gary Anderson and Joel Wright split the vote, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Wright said he was satisfied to take the election to a Republican primary race.

"I'm really happy. It's very hard to take out an incumbent," he said.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the convention was played out while delegates were casting their first ballot, when gubernatorial candidate Richard Martin complained to convention Chairman Taylor Oldroyd that he was being forced to choose between addressing the Utah County delegates, or leaving in time to speak at the Salt Lake County Convention.

"He was mad because we went to the first ballot before letting him speak, but he was never on the agenda to speak before the first ballot," Oldroyd said. "What I don't appreciate is his verbally attacking me here."

The Utah County Steering Committee Wednesday night had reversed a controversial decision that would have allowed only Gov. Gary Herbert to address delegates because of his status as an elected officials. That change offered Richard Martin, Daniel Oaks and Dell Schanze a spot on the agenda toward the end of the meeting, after the first ballot.

During the meeting, delegates voted to shift the agenda to allow some candidates, including the eight candidates for U.S. Senate and elected officials like Herbert, to speak before the first ballot. That gave them plenty of time to make the drive to Sandy, where the Salt Lake Convention was being held.

The remaining gubernatorial candidates were forced to wait if they wanted to speak.

"Needless to say we were highly disappointed," said Karen Martin, Richard Martin's campaign manager and wife. Richard Martin chose to leave Orem before he had a chance to speak. Oaks remained to deliver his message of change, before moving to the other convention. Schanze did not make an appearance at the convention.

Karen Martin said she had been told initially that the candidates could expect to be on the agenda by 11:30 a.m., allowing them time to speak and still make their 12:30 p.m. address in Sandy, but party insiders had warned her to expect a maneuver that would squeeze them out.

"This never should have been an issue," she said, accusing the Utah County convention organizers of favoring Herbert and "breaking neutrality."

Oldroyd denied the move was designed to do anything other than move the convention agenda along, and that the change was made with the approval of all the delegates.

The convention generated three primary contests. In addition to Anderson, a primary election will be held countywide for the office of county recorder between Jeff Smith and incumbent Rodney Campbell.

Val Peterson and Michael J. Thompson will face each other for House District 59. The seat is currently held by Laurie Fowlke, who is not running for re-election.

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