Utah's political party nomination conventions are finished for 2008.

And while there was a possibility of great upheavals in local politics, especially within the Republican Party, in the end it didn't happen.

On the GOP side, where there could have been real changes, with all the conventions over only two legislative incumbents were defeated in their renomination efforts. As expected, GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., coasted to renomination and is a heavy favorite in November. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, has a new GOP challenger in the 3rd Congressional District — Jason Chaffetz — but Cannon has faced intra-party opponents in five of his seven elections.

What change that came was in only a few legislative races.

Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, was kicked out of office in Utah County.

And in Salt Lake County, Rep. Sylvia Andersen, R-Sandy, lost to former state Rep. LaVar Christensen.

Neither legislator could lay their intra-party defeats at the feet of private school vouchers. Tilton had bad press over his conflicts of interests in pushing for a new nuclear power plant in southern Utah.

And Christensen was the representative from Andersen's House District 48 before he left the seat in 2006 to run for Congress. No doubt District 48 delegates knew him better than Andersen.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Fred Fife, D-Salt Lake, was defeated by political newcomer and fellow Democrat Luz Robles. Fife is a nice guy but not exactly a political dynamo. Robles, a Hispanic, outworked him and got the support of the district's Hispanic community.

After the March candidate filing deadline, it looked like a number of pro-voucher, conservative legislators could be taken out by intra-party challenges. Some — like Rep. Steve Urquhart's fight against Carmen Snow in St. George for an open GOP-held Senate seat — were clearly tied to the voucher issue.

But after all the convention voting was done — in 29 county conventions and the state conventions — any incumbent push-back because of vouchers had vanished.

And anti-voucher Democrats, Republicans and even independents who may have come into the party nominating system found themselves sitting on the sidelines as the incumbent Republicans rolled to victory.

Outside of the voucher issue, even embattled archconservative Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, won renomination to his district in the Salt Lake County Convention.

Buttars' victory was the real shocker for those who believed that the Utah Republican Party could purge itself of questionable incumbents.

Buttars made a terrible mistake last session when, in debate over a school district bill, he called the bill "a black baby ... a dark, ugly thing." He apologized. But the local chapter of the NAACP still called for his resignation. He refused and said he'd run again.

Buttars was challenged by several good GOP candidates. And a poll by the Deseret News found that most of his Senate District 10 voters didn't want him back — even most GOP voters in his district didn't want him back. But by one vote (ironically, Buttars' own, since he was an automatic delegate under GOP county rules) he got 60 percent of the delegate vote and won renomination.

Buttars, like most of the conservative Republican incumbents who defeated their intra-party challengers this spring, still must face a Democrat this November.

And while Democratic Party leaders are optimistic that they can take out some of those pro-voucher, conservative lawmakers, the reality of Utah politics points the other way.

Regardless of party affiliation, lawmakers so carefully redrew their own districts following the 2000 Census that few incumbents are ever defeated in legislative races.

In 2006, 93.75 percent of House incumbents who ran for re-election won.

Incumbent senators had a lower re-election rate — 82 percent — but that was because several incumbents were beaten in their party conventions or primaries.

So, for all the talk and bluster, party delegates this spring did not oust many legislative incumbents.

The center core, both in the Republican and Democratic parties, held.

What will happen in the 2009 Legislature — when citizens watch a number of incumbents who were called all kinds of names in the media and threatened with defeat by anti-voucher activists and other disgruntled citizens stand up and take the oath of office again?

Retribution? Revenge? Puffed up, "we survived," attitudes?

Probably not.

No, it will just be Utah GOP majority politics as usual, in one of the reddest states in the nation.


Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at bbjr@desnews.com