Utah GOP leaders say they have the authority to release national delegates pledged to Mitt Romney and are calling a meeting of their central committee to formally support that move.
Romney, who won 90 percent of the vote in February's GOP presidential primary here, has already asked that the 36 Utah delegates to the National Republican Convention next month be released to vote for Sen. John McCain, the GOP presumptive nominee. Romney, hugely popular in Utah in part because of his management of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, dropped out of the GOP presidential race in March.
Late last week, Stan Lockhart, Utah GOP chairman, sent out an e-mail to the 180 central committee members (the basic governing body of the state party) saying that he had thoroughly researched the state GOP constitution, the party bylaws, had spoken with Republican National Committee officials and studied Roberts Rules of Order.
And it is his decision that he can release the Romney delegates himself, as Romney desires and has asked him to do.
Without being formally released, because of the primary vote the 36 delegates should vote for Romney at the convention, to be held in St. Paul, Minn., in September.
Since there will only be one round of voting in the convention which will pick McCain as the GOP presidential nominee Utah's vote would stand for Romney.
And that could be embarrassing for Romney, who is clearly trying to convince McCain to pick him as his vice presidential running mate.
Party officials said if the e-mail feedback showed no strong objections, that Lockhart would rule accordingly, and a late-August central committee meeting could be cancelled.
But there is some objection, said Ivan DuBois, state GOP executive director. And after the Deseret News posted a story about the issue online Monday afternoon, GOP officials decided to hold a central committee meeting anyway, even though most of the e-mails coming back from committee members show support for Lockhart's decision.
Central committee member Don Guymon, who is also a national delegate, has bumped heads with party bosses before. Guymon said Lockhart's e-mail request "is completely out of order."
And he added that no matter what the central committee or Lockhart says, he intends "to follow the rules of the Utah Republican Party and the wishes of over 90 percent of Utah Republican voters and cast my vote for Mitt Romney."
Guymon, who heads up Grass Roots, a conservative watchdog group, responded to Lockhart's e-mail by writing that nowhere in party rules is it allowed to "unbound" national delegates, who are supposed to represent the will of the GOP presidential primary voters. "Party leadership is trying to change the rules of the game after the game has been completed ... like referees trying to change the results of the game."
And, said Guymon, the same delegate release attempt was made in the May state GOP convention, and the matter was not decided by a state delegate vote. So now Lockhart is trying to change the decision of Utah Republicans who voted for Romney, after state delegates refused to act, charges Guymon.
Guymon also doesn't like Lockhart using e-mail to poll central committee members, because there is no way to debate among committee members using that technology.
"Only one side is being presented" through Lockhart's e-mail arguments in favor of releasing the Romney delegates, charges Guymon.
"Some (central committee members) want a debate, so we will have a (central committee) meeting" on the matter, said DuBois.
In his e-mail, Lockhart said Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, in a written request recently received, asked that Utah GOP national delegates be released to vote for McCain. With that new request in hand, Lockhart decided to review whether he had the authority to release delegates as Romney asks.
"I have had many discussions with the Romney campaign on this issue," Lockhart wrote. "They are firm in their desire for their delegates to be released."
After reviewing all party "governing documents," Lockhart then writes, "I have concluded that our national delegates can be released. ... I am asking for your support of my finding to allow Utah's national delegates to be released from voting for Mitt Romney."Counters Guymon: "We can spend all of the money we want on ad campaigns (the state GOP "I Can" campaign on how good Republican management of government has been for Utah), but if we are not viewed as a party that can be trusted, we will eventually lose political power in the state."