Some Utah Republicans, many of them GOP officeholders, are worried this spring about their party.

They see the conservative nature of some party convention delegates - both at the county and state conventions - odd convention resolutions and the inordinate number of challenges to incumbents from candidates more to the right than usual.They see conspiracies; shadows lurking behind lawn signs.

Certainly, Republican conservatives are getting organized.

The Utah Republican Assembly was organized last year with a clear warning to GOP incumbents and party leaders. As assembly co-chairman Don Ruzicka - husband of Eagle Forum's Gayle Ruzicka - says, "We want to return the Republican Party to its historical values."

And Republican Party leaders and incumbents will be held accountable for their actions, says Ruzicka.

Some incumbents have the feeling they are anointed, crowned to serve as long in office as they wish, he adds.

And he's right.

Some members of the Utah House and Senate have never had a serious challenge in four, eight, even 12 years. Many legislators, especially those in leadership positions, don't even have to raise campaign funds.

At the start of their campaign seasons they send out a dozen or two dozen letters to well-known lobbyists and the groups they represent and collect $10,000 or $20,000 with no other efforts, more than enough to run their basically unopposed elections.

War chests of many legislators have continued to grow during the 1990s, the money being used by leaders and leader-wannabee to give to other legislative candidates in their party, thus ensuring votes in leadership elections.

Now comes the assembly and Eagle Forum to mess with their contented political lifestyles.

And the incumbents are upset.

In their defense, the GOP incumbents are saying citizens had better beware, that it's not just their seats that are at risk, but major government policies. If moderate-to-conservative Republican legislators are swept away - or forced in fear of losing their seats to take more "radical" stands - citizens will be the ultimate losers, some warn.

But politicians are known for their short memories. And all the talk of the "far right" taking over Utah politics isn't as real as some Chicken Littles may be yelling today.

I remember the early 1980s in the Utah Legislature. Now, there were some real conservatives for you.

We had the late Sen. Verl Asay lecturing on pythons (you stomp on their eggs before they hatch and grow up to kill you - an analogy often used to stamp out moral corruption).

We had the Cable TV Decency Act - a clearly unconstitutional measure that cost state taxpayers a lot of money to defend in court until it was finally struck down. The late Gov. Scott M. Matheson vetoed it, but the Legislature overrode that veto with two critical votes coming from conservative Democrats in the Senate.

I remember former Gov. Norm Bangerter - who was a two-term speaker of the House - telling me how he, as speaker, had to have former Rep. Mac Haddow and other arch-conservative representatives sit by him in the GOP House caucus (always closed in those days) so he could kick them under the table when they started speaking against basic education funding and traditional state programs.

Still, some current lawmakers are worried.

At the state GOP convention this year a pretty conservative Utah County lawmaker sat down next to me and said, "Well, looks like I'm a moderate. And if this (what was going on in the convention) is `conservative' then I'm glad to be a moderate."

Ruzicka and the other activists have so frightened some old-guard Republicans that there's talk of the Legislature doing away with the convention/primary system Utah now employs.

A strange hybrid not used in other states, in Utah a candidate first gets his supporters to attend neighborhood mass meetings to be elected delegates. Then the delegates go to county or state conventions where they vote on candidates, and then the candidate must appear in an open primary (if necessary) where anyone can vote for him regardless of his or her political party leanings.

Some Republicans are saying maybe Utah should dump the convention process and just go to a party-registration primary. Then the masses of Republicans (40 percent of the populace according to Deseret News pollster Dan Jones) would have a leveling effect on the far right of the party.

But Utah legislators are creatures of habit. They've won under the current political system, flourished with safe seats and large campaign funds. They'd have to be real scared to change.

The question is, does Ruzicka, the assembly and Eagle Forum scare them enough?