When you're the governor, sometimes you do things you think may not be so controversial - like make a few offhanded remarks about polygamy - and the world seems to fall on your head.
Gov. Mike Leavitt's last-minute buying of telephone banks and endorsements for four moderate GOP legislators just before the June 23 primary is one such incident.And the matter is not going away. At least not any time soon.
Last week at the state Republican Party's central committee meeting, former Salt Lake County GOP chairman Rich Kuchinsky made a motion, which got overwhelming support, that the central committee consider changing the state party constitution to ban pre-primary endorsements by party officers and statewide officeholders.
In short, Kuchinsky and his central committee supporters don't want what Leavitt did repeated. Ever.
"I don't care if it is the governor, the speaker of the House or the president of the Senate, we don't want a precedent set here. We want to stop this right now," Kuchinsky said this week. (Besides Leavitt, House Speaker Mel Brown and Senate President Lane Beattie also endorsed the legislative incumbents and, along with Leavitt, attended a fund-raiser for the three Davis County members before their GOP primaries.)
Yes, says Kuchinsky, Leavitt, even as governor, has the same rights as any Utahn and American - the right of free speech at the top of the list.
Kuchinsky says no one will try to ban anyone from speaking out. But he and other central committee members want to put as much pressure as possible to discourage Leavitt-like actions.
"In one move, he (Leavitt) compromised the integrity of the whole (Republican) party candidate nomination process," says Kuchinsky, who was Salt Lake County chairman from 1991 to 1995.
"Maybe this will end my friendly relationship with the governor. But right is right. And what he did was a mistake, just plain wrong," Kuchinsky adds.
What Leavitt did was endorse moderate GOP Davis County candidates Reps. Sheryl Allen, Susan Koehn and Richard Siddoway and Sen. Dave Steele, and South Jordan Rep. Lloyd Frandsen.
Koehn, Siddoway and Steele had intraparty challenges from Republican candidates that most would consider to the right of the party's spectrum. Frandsen was challenged by fellow Republican Janalee Tobias, a member of the state GOP central committee and a community activist.
But not only did Leavitt endorse those people, he also paid more than $16,000 from his own PAC to a local telemarketer to make telephone calls into the incumbents' districts supporting them.
Tobias believes Leavitt's actions cost her the race against Frandsen. But the veteran Frandsen got 67 percent of the vote to Tobias' 33 percent, a pretty big win.
In any case, says Kuchinsky, no major GOP officials should be endorsing candidates before a convention or primary battle.
"We say we're the `big tent' party - that everyone is welcome. Well, what message does this send to people like Jeff Ostler (who lost to Steele). Here is a guy (Ostler) who was outside our party, running in another party, and he comes to us, gets involved, puts his own money into the race, and then gets broadsided. It's not fair.
"Look at Janalee. Here is a good Republican, a central committee member, who puts her own money into the race and also gets broadsided by the titular head of our party (Leavitt)."
State party leaders say a bylaw committee will report back to a November central committee meeting on Kuchinsky's motion. Kuchinsky expects wording on how the constitution could be changed.
But GOP state chairman Rob Bishop says the committee could report back that there is no way to change the constitution that wouldn't run afoul of free speech entitlements.
And on the political reality front, party leaders privately question whether anyone can tell a popular and powerful politician such as Leavitt to shut up and not endorse his favored GOP candidates before the primary.
"We don't propose any sanctions, no way to force (party leaders) not to endorse a candidate. But there should be a rule, and if they choose not to obey it, then everyone will know," says Kuchinsky.
Party leaders question whether Kuchinsky's change will even pass the central committee. Said one leading Republican, "Some of these people (demanding the constitutional change) are also gun-rights advocates. How can they be so much in favor of the Second Amendment (right to bear arms) and so against the First Amendment? We don't understand it."