GOP report: 'Backroom dealing' not to blame for Utah convention controversy

Published: Tuesday, May 8 2012 12:05 p.m. MDT

Candidate in the 2nd Congressional District Chris Stewart speaks at the GOP convention Saturday, April 21, 2012 in the South Towne Exposition Center.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright concluded in a report released Tuesday that "backroom dealing" was not to blame for the 2nd Congressional District race boiling over at the party's state convention last month.

Wright said he supports Chris Stewart as the party's nominee for the seat and found no evidence that any laws were violated by any of the candidates or their campaigns.

He also said there was no evidence other candidates conspired against Stewart, who won the nomination after a series of allegations made during convention speeches by some of the 10 others in the running.

The uproar started, the report said, when one of the candidates, Eureka Mayor Milt Hanks, told delegates during his first-round speech that he was approached by four other candidates, Dave Clark, Cherilyn Eagar, Howard Wallack and Chuck Williams, to join an "ABC" or "anybody but Chris" effort.

In interviews with Wright, those four candidates "emphatically denied" such a conversation took place and Hanks said only one of the four asked him to pledge his support to any candidate other than Stewart.

Hanks' microphone should have been cut off, Wright said, "when he began naming candidates and making subjective, inflammatory accusations" but the official running the first round of speeches in a side hall said it happened so fast he had no time to react.

Wright said Hanks "believed what he said to be correct when he said it. I believe he acted according to his conscience but did not consider the full impact his actions would have on the elections or on the reputations of these individuals and their families," and acted irresponsibly.

Hanks apologized in the report, but said he "spoke what I believed to be the truth based on conversations I had with other candidates" and noted he did not have "proper documentation" and did not "verify my suspicions were true before making accusations during my speech."

The report said Hanks had received a copy of a letter to GOP delegates that surfaced before the April 21 convention that raised questions about Stewart's military background and connections to the controversial "Temple mailer" in the 2010 U.S. Senate race that initially appeared to be an attack on former Sen. Bob Bennett.

"Despite considerable time and energy on the part of myself and my staff, I have been unable to ascertain who is responsible for the letter," Wright said in the report. He said because it did not include the disclaimer about who authorized or paid for it, it is in violation of federal election laws.

The Republican chairman went on to "strongly encourage anyone who has information that would be helpful in determining who is responsible for the letter to contact the Federal Elections Commission."

The report, written at the request of a delegate at the convention who asked for a full investigation in the midst of the confusion, calls for future convention planners to review whether candidates who do not campaign should be allowed to speak.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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