A move is under way to unseat a former Utah congressman as the state's Democratic national committeeman because he backed a Republican in a recent election.
Bill Orton, who served three terms in Congress in the 1990s, is seeking re-election as committeeman at Saturday's state Democratic Party Convention. As committeeman, he represents the state on the national committee and is a superdelegate.
State Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, has sent out an e-mail to Democratic delegates asking that they vote against Orton because Orton endorsed McCoy's GOP opponent two years ago.
"We need a Democratic national committeeman that will work to get Democrats elected in Utah, not more Republicans," McCoy wrote in the e-mail, describing Orton as "expected and required by party rules to support our Democratic candidates for office locally and nationally."
Republican Joe Jarvis used Orton in campaign materials during his 2006 run for the Senate seat. McCoy was running as the incumbent after he had been appointed a year earlier to fill out the unfinished term of former Sen. Paula Julander.
In the campaign materials Orton was quoted as saying, "I will vote for Dr. Jarvis to be my state senator ... I am pleased Dr. Jarvis asked me to chair his campaign because I know Democrats and Independents admire his leadership on health care."
Orton said his endorsement of a Republican was not in conflict with his position as committeeman. He said Jarvis was a longtime friend who volunteered on Orton's 2000 gubernatorial campaign.
"Joe Jarvis has been a friend of mine for many, many years. He lives across the street from me, his children played with my children, we go to the same church," Orton said, adding he had assumed Jarvis was a Democrat when he agreed to the endorsement.
"He had to pick me off the floor," Orton recalled of the moment Jarvis said he was a member of the GOP. "At that point, do I then say just because you've chosen to run as a Republican you are no longer my friend?"
Jarvis is running for office again, this time as the Republican nominee in the House seat held by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Haouk, D-Salt Lake. Chavez-Haouk was appointed in December to the Avenues-area seat to replace Ralph Becker after he was elected Salt Lake mayor.
Orton said he has been told that McCoy, Utah's only openly gay state senator, had endorsed a gay Republican "and made a statement that it was more important to elect more gays to political office than partisanship."
"I think it's a bit hypocritical of him to be complaining about my endorsement of a friend," Orton said.
McCoy said he didn't recall making that statement but did support a Salt Lake City Council candidate who was a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group. McCoy said Brian Doughty was running in a nonpartisan race and as an unaffiliated candidate.
In the committeeman race, McCoy is endorsing Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch, a Democrat. At least two other candidates are running for the slot. Hatch said he welcomed the endorsement and agreed that Orton should not have backed a Republican.
"As an individual, you can endorse anyone you want. But when you're a Democratic Party leader, you kind of give up that right," Hatch said. "I've never voted for a Republican in my life and I would never consider endorsing one. I think it was unseemly."The outcome of the race for committeeman won't affect the Utah superdelegate vote for Democratic presidential candidates since the winner's term won't begin until after the party's national convention in August.
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