The Utah County attorney said no.

The attorney general said no.

The lieutenant governor said no.

If those three say they don't have any legal jurisdiction over the powerful leadership of the Utah County Republican Party, the question now is simple.

Does anyone?

Not really. The Utah Legislature deregulated political parties, conventions and primaries in 1994 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states only can control party primary elections to ensure fairness and accuracy.

Fast forward to the Utah County GOP convention in 2008, when a tremendously well-connected 17-year-old girl named Hannah Lockhart served as a delegate and voted to select the party nominees for state Legislature.

Was it legal for her to do so when Utah law states a voter is only eligible if he or she will be 18 on the day of an election?

The party interprets the law to refer to the general election, but a candidate who lost at the convention believed local GOP bosses at the very least bent the party's bylaws in favor of incumbent Sen. Curt Bramble. Bramble defeated Jacqueline De Gaston at the convention with more than 60 percent of the votes of convention delegates, thus earning the party's nomination without the need for a primary.

De Gaston has been searching for someone to force the party to hold a primary because she felt the alleged violations of party bylaws should negate the convention results.

Looking for help, she sent letters to Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff asking whether Hannah Lockhart's votes were legal.

Buhman said his office could only respond if a police agency referred a crime for prosecution or if the Utah County Clerk asked for legal advice regarding an election issue.

The Attorney General's Office issued a letter Monday describing Supreme Court rulings and stating that Utah political parties have free rein to determine who can become a party member, who may be a delegate and who can vote in its primary elections.

"There is no Utah law mandating how political parties must conduct their business nor limiting who may participate," Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts wrote.

"Therefore, your questions are a matter of concern between you and your political party and not the state."

Nobody is going to give De Gaston a primary. She said the lesson is that whoever controls the party can control local elections.

"If there's no one in control of the party, heaven help us," she said. "I don't know what the public can do. All the races in Utah County were settled in convention by the votes of the delegates, so thousands of Republicans have no say because they don't get to go to the polls for a primary."

Republicans in Utah County generally win their party's nomination at convention and overwhelmingly win general elections with ease. Primaries are rare. Selection of candidates then, is crucial, and while party bylaws require party leadership to remain neutral during the nomination process, it is usually clear who party power brokers like Bramble want to see win.

De Gaston wants to break up the monopoly on power by changing the county party leadership at next year's organizing convention. That won't be any easier than trying to defeat Bramble. Party leaders decide who will replace any delegates who resign before next year's convention.

They won that right by being better political football players. De Gaston isn't sure how to get back in the game.

"There's no way to solve the problems in the party because the people in control have the power," De Gaston said.


Utah County Bureau Chief Tad Walch lives with his wife and five children in Provo, their home for the past 21 years. E-mail [email protected].