Utah voters: Welcome to the political world of Stan Lockhart, Curt Bramble and, for those living in Happy Valley, the Utah County Republican Party.

When GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., after briefly trying to find someone on his own to be the new chairman of the Utah Republican Party last year, decided to "wash his hands" of picking the new party leader, I'm told he was warned that letting GOP legislators pick the man (or woman) could prove troublesome.

But Huntsman decided to stay out of it.

And so Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem; Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo; House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy; and other legislative luminaries decided on local lobbyist Stan Lockhart, whose wife is state Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. (State GOP delegates pick party leaders, but they usually follow the advice of their top elected officials.)

Known as part of the GOP Utah County clique, Stan Lockhart is well known to many legislators. For years as the Micron lobbyist, he had provided more Jazz tickets to lawmakers than any other lobbyist. A Deseret News calculation by investigative reporter Lee Davidson found that Stan Lockhart has given legislators nearly $60,000 in Jazz tickets over the years.

Stan Lockhart is best buddies with Bramble — their families go on trips together, including a jaunt to Italy last summer. (Bramble, in an as-yet-unpublished lobbyist-giving study by Davidson, leads all legislators in taking $1,447 in lobbyist gifts during the first quarter of this year, which includes the 2008 Legislature. Bramble says he paid his own way to Italy, taking no gifts from Lockhart or another well-known lobbyist who went on the trip.)

I'm told that a few other GOP supporters warned Lockhart that he would have to be his own man as party chairman, and that the "Bram-harts" — as the couples are collectively known — would not be running the Utah Republican Party like their own little fraternity.

But someone didn't get the memo.

The 2008 legislative elections — where Lockhart is expected to deliver the normal GOP landslides — haven't started well for the party insiders.

You see, the Republican Party is supposed to be neutral in intra-party races — at least on the face of it. Of course, like many cliques, the real party organizations are not that objective.

But this spring, Lockhart really blew it when he sanctioned a political fundraiser for what is now called the Fab Five — four Utah County House Republicans and one southern Salt Lake County House member, who are up for re-election this year.

The problem: Lockhart's state GOP sent out the fundraising letters under the state GOP mailing privilege, while the state party is supposed to be neutral. And four of those five House Republicans are being challenged this year by fellow Republicans.

Asked why he did such an unfair thing, Lockhart tried to explain that he was planning on sending out the Fab Five brochure BEFORE the candidate filing opened. And thus the party would be helping GOP incumbents before any intra-party challenge(s).

But he just got so busy recruiting candidates (probably not trying to recruit candidates to run against the Fab Five), that the invitations went out late — after the candidate filing deadline and four of the five had intra-party challengers.

It violates party rules for the party to get involved in such favoritism during a contested GOP election. Lockhart said sorry, and offered to pay for a fundraising letter for the challengers.

Second screw-up: Back in Happy Valley, the Utah County GOP chairwoman decided that no GOP candidates would get the e-mail addresses of newly elected delegates — complaints about getting spammed in 2006 were made by some delegates. E-mails make it easier for the candidates to contact delegates who will be voting on them in the upcoming Utah County Republican Convention.

And, get this, the Utah County GOP secretary, who has all the delegate e-mails, is Susan Bramble — wife of Sen. Bramble, who also is being challenged by two Republicans for his own re-election this year.

Sen. Bramble told the media he would not get the e-mail addresses from his wife — but even some Happy Valley Republicans didn't buy that one.

While that argument is going on, some GOP district chairmen gave out the delegate e-mail addresses to candidates anyway, others didn't, so the Utah County GOP chairwoman bowed out and gave all the party candidates all the delegate e-mail addresses in their respective districts.

Third screw-up: At a meet-the-delegate night in Spanish Fork, a Utah County GOP committeewoman told Republican candidate Chance Williams, who is challenging Rep. Mike Morley, R-Spanish Fork, that if Williams mentioned the $3 million lawsuit brought against Morley by the federal government over a soured business deal, she would close down the meeting. Williams didn't bring it up, but one delegate said he's disgusted with party leaders trying to protect their own. Who cares about the First Amendment and freedom of speech anyway?

Fourth screw-up: One of Sen. Bramble's GOP challengers, Jacqueline de Gaston, is complaining that while she can get the list of the GOP delegates in her race (even with the e-mails) she can't find out how many of those are delegates elected in neighborhood meetings, how many are so-called "superdelegates" — party officeholders and others who get their delegate status without having to run in the neighborhood party mass meetings.

Seems the Utah County Republican Party may have a higher percent of those superdelegates (10 to 15 percent, believes de Gaston) than do other county parties (3 or 4 percent) — thus stacking the deck in favor of party insiders.

Perhaps a final straw? Party Chairman Lockhart's daughter, who was living with her parents at the time of the March neighborhood mass meetings, attended a GOP mass meeting in her new neighborhood as she attends BYU this spring. So she was elected a delegate in a district that at the time she was not living in. But GOP officials say that is OK, since she will represent the appropriate area at the party convention.

And in all the discussions about GOP delegates and proper activity, guess who is the chairman of the delegate credentials committee at the Utah State Republican Convention: Sen. Curt Bramble.

This whole mess reads like "Animal Farm" — the futuristic totalitarian novel — where the animal-run farm motto is: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Note to a likely re-elected Huntsman, who is the nominal head of the party: In 2009 get involved in who the new GOP state chairman is and lead an effort to clean up the Utah Republican Party.

Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]