Cops, candidates, confusion - who says Salt Lake County Republicans can't make a political convention lively?
Saturday, former 3rd Congressional District candidate Tom Draschil and another member of his conservative Republican Assembly were arrested by Salt Lake police after the pair refused to stop passing out literature at the Salt Lake County Republican Convention held in the Salt Palace.And police were also needed to escort Gerard Arthus from the convention hall stage when he kept demanding that he be allowed to speak. Arthus filed as a Republican and Libertarian in the 1st Congressional District, and under Republican Party rules no "fusion" candidate - one who files under two or more parties - is allowed to address the convention.
All that was prologue, however.
Republicans really met to pick candidates. And on that score it was a tough day - much debate, booing and hissing and some flaring tempers.
However, one who didn't lose her cool was former U.S. Rep. Enid Greene, convention chairwoman, who calmly led the 1,200 delegates through vote after vote - even votes aimed at overturning her rulings as convention chair - and received a standing ovation at the end of the nearly nine-hour convention.
GOP County Commissioner Mary Callaghan - the target of a number of nasty campaign pieces over the last two weeks - failed by only eight votes to eliminate Wendy Smith. The two women will now face each other in a June 23 primary.
Late in the day a delegate moved for one more vote on the Callaghan/Smith race (there had already been three ballots) in an attempt to put Callaghan over the 65 percent required to emerge as the nominee. The reason, the delegate stated: "We have had too much dirty campaigning, and we are sick of it." The attempt failed.
There was also much confusion over a rule change made Saturday morning, which required additional balloting should certain conditions be met. Greene spent a lot of time conferring with party leaders and handling motions and appeals relating to the change.
At least two of Smith's flyers, viewed by delegates as overly negative, originated with Commissioner Brent Overson, Smith's main backer. Overson, whose term is not up until 2000, was lucky he wasn't on the ballot. Time and again a number of delegates shouted him down as he asked Chairwoman Greene questions, and on one occasion - as the Callaghan/Smith voting was debated - a delegate yelled out to Overson: "Sit down you bum!"
"This was a convention against Brent Overson," he mused afterward. "It's OK to say don't be negative, but if that means you can't talk about the issues, why have a debate?"
One of the flyers went out over the signatures of Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, County Recorder Nancy Workman and County Sheriff Aaron Kennard, who later distanced themselves from it.
"I don't agree with any direct attacks on other candidates," Dolan said.
Smith raised her arms and cried "I'm going to Disneyland!" when the results came in and she made it to the primary. She said she recognized the need to distance herself from Overson to win the primary, but "I'm going to worry about that next week."
As for her narrow escape from elimination, "You have to remember Merrill Cook," the current GOP 2nd Congressional District incumbent, who came within 18 votes of elimination in convention in 1996.
In the other commission race, GOP candidates Steve Harmsen and Mark Shurtleff will have a primary, since four ballots failed to put Shurtleff over the 65 percent mark. County Commission chief of staff David Marshall, considered the frontrunner early on, was eliminated from the race, a shock to some county Republican watchers.
Most commission staffers who were present sported Marshall paraphernalia and wore long faces after the vote.
County District Attorney Neal Gunnarson had a rough time as well. After his opponent, Mark Griffin, said Gunnarson was soft on Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini (Gunnarson didn't charge her after Corradini accepted $231,000 in gifts from various people), Gunnarson strongly defended himself to delegates. Griffin still outpolled Gunnarson - 52 percent to 47 percent - and the pair face each other in a primary.
Auditor Craig Sorensen, the only other county officer challenged within his party, easily became the nominee by outdistancing opponent Roy Drew on the first ballot.
Nevertheless, the convention probably will be remembered more for loyal Republicans being dragged away in handcuffs than for the balloting results.
Draschil, Republican Assembly co-founder Don Ruzicka and some fellow Assembly members arrived at the Salt Palace early, around 7 a.m., to pass out their literature, Ruzicka told the Deseret News. Confronted by both Salt Palace guards and Salt Lake County GOP leaders, the men were told that because they weren't Salt Lake County delegates (they're from Utah County) and didn't pay the $300 charged by the county GOP to set up a booth in the convention hall, they couldn't pass out the material.
A running discussion/argument ensued, which lasted about an hour before "Tom couldn't take any more and told them they were violating his First Amendment rights of free speech," said Ruzicka.
Deputy county sheriffs (who were on hand as off-duty officers acting as convention security for Sheriff Aaron Kennard - also the convention's sergeant of arms) then threatened Draschil with arrest. "He said, `Well, you'll have to arrest me then,' " said Ruzicka.
City police then came on the scene and did just that. Fellow Assembly member Ruth Robinson told police to go ahead and arrest her too, so they did.
"It was a very unfortunate incident," said Salt Lake County Chairman Bill Quist - who at times carried on the running argument with Ruzicka and Draschil. Quist said convention rules didn't allow the literature distribution, but Ruzicka said Quist never produced such rules. "Frankly, I don't think they exist. They just make up rules as they go."
Salt Lake police Lt. Arthur Healey told the Associated Press that Draschil and Robinson were escorted to the Salt Lake City-County Jail and booked on class B misdemeanor counts of trespassing, disrupting a meeting and failure to comply with a lawful order. "This is outrageous. Just outrageous," said Ruzicka.
While Ruzicka was trying to figure out how to spring Draschil and Robinson from the slammer, Salt Lake City Attorney Roger Cutler, also a county GOP delegate, got involved to resolve the matter and police agreed to release the pair on their own recognizance.
Ironically, Ruzicka and Draschil were passing out a proposed resolution, to be introduced in the convention, asking Utah's Republican congressmen to oppose allowing NATO to expand to include more former Soviet-bloc countries. That resolution was introduced in the convention late in the afternoon - after delegates voted to allow it to be distributed - and it passed.