SPANISH FORK Chance Williams promised a crowd of 25 GOP delegates at Spanish Fork High School he would "be nice" during a meet-the-candidate event Thursday night, after the event's emcee threatened to shut the whole thing down if he brought up his opponent's personal issues.
The awkward start to the meeting rattled a few delegates, many of whom said they were not familiar with an undercurrent of frustration between the Utah County Republican Committee and Williams, who is challenging Rep. Mike Morley in House District 66.
The two candidates expressed their positions on education, immigration and transportation but never touched on the shadow that has recently been cast over Morley's campaign.
Attorneys with the Securities and Exchange Commission have filed a complaint against Morley seeking $3 million in repayment from a hedge fund that soured after risky investments. A hearing in federal court is set for later this month. Morley is accused of being "unjustly enriched" from the investment fund he joined, according to the complaint documents.
But this and other questions about Morley's personal business with charter schools were off the table.
"I'm frustrated," Williams said after the meeting. "These shouldn't be seen as personal issues, they represent who he is and what he stands for."
GOP officials did not allow any questions from delegates.
"I thought they would have," said Morley after the meeting. "I think it would have been better if I could have got this out and explained how complicated it really is. The fact is, I put five million in, got two (million out) and lost three million."
Rumor spread among delegates about the meeting being canceled because several news outlets had picked up on the story.
"This was almost canceled because a small group in the party wants to protect their own," said John Webb, a delegate.
"I'm so frustrated with this party right now and what they're doing. "
Other delegates also heard rumors the event might be canceled due to rumbling about a showdown of personal attacks. The committee, however, denied talk of any termination.
"We just want to keep the meeting all about the issues," said Maryanne Davis, Utah County Republican Committee member. "In order to get the issues out, they're not allowed to attack personal character."
Davis defended Morley, saying 98 percent of businessmen end up in litigation. The complaint "doesn't mean a thing," she said. "It doesn't need to be brought up when it doesn't matter that much."Williams disagrees: "We're talking about millions and millions of dollars in bids for charter schools and large lawsuits of misappropriating millions," he said. "How is that not an open issue?"