The State Republican Convention was great theater Saturday, even if it was theater of the absurd.
After the convention ended, the Utah governor's race was what it was before: Gov. Norm Bangerter is the Republican Party standard-bearer (e eliminated Dean Samuels in the convention), Merrill Cook is an independent candidate, and Democrat Ted Wilson is still ahead of both Bangerter and Cook in the polls.But for several hours, those attending the convention were treated to high drama and strange politics.
Here's a slice of the action:
You had the Utah Republican delegation - Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn, Reps. Howard Nielson and Jim Hansen - standing shoulder to shoulder, asking delegates to allow Cook back into the party if he would give up his independent ways.
You had Bangerter giving one of the best speeches of his life, ending it with a promise to accept the prodigal son (ook) if he repented his ways and promised to be a faithful Republican.
And you had the silent shadow of the man nobody saw - Cook - who had been missing for 48 hours campaigning somewhere in southern Utah and unavailable for response.
The delegates waited in suspense. Would Cook come home to the party? Would he arrive at the convention, rush in breathlessly to fight Bangerter for their support? Would the party be united and strong and go on to fight the Democrats? Would anyone figure out what the heck was going on?
The answer to all was "no."
In the end, Cook didn't show up at the convention, and his name was never voted on
Contacted Saturday evening, Cook, who had just arrived in town from campaigning down south, said he wouldn't have accepted the conditions demanded by party leaders anyway. "I would have kept my independent candidacy. It is the only way to win this year, the only way to run my race. This was not a Merrill Cook movement, it was a delegate movement. Why should I have conditions placed on me, on my candidacy, when it is not my movement?"
Depending on whom you believe, the attempt to bring Cook back into the Republican fold and have him face Bangerter fair and square was either an honest attempt at party unity or a well-scripted farce, with Cook GOP delegates playing their parts well.
Mills Crenshaw, the delegate-spokesman for the two-dozen delegates who formed the draft-Cook movement, said the effort could have ended Cook's independent candidacy and given the ultimate GOP nominee - either Cook or Bangerter - a chance at beating Wilson. "We were very sincere in our attempt to unify this party. The Republican Party has made a mistake (n rejecting Cook). But my recommendation (o the draft-Cook movement) is we don't challenge this thing in court, but let the party stew in its own juices," Crenshaw said after delegates voted 730-714 not to allow Cook's name onto the delegate ballot. (t takes a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules to do that, so the vote wasn't even close.)
"This was a planned, orchestrated attempt to get Cook's name in the paper and on TV," said one Bang-erter aide. "He never had any intention of coming to the convention, declaring himself a Republican and giving up his independent candidacy."
Politically, party leaders and Bangerter and his supporters wanted Cook's name placed on the ballot for delegate consideration - providing that Cook come in person and promise to drop his independent candidacy and support Bangerter should Cook lose in the convention or in a Sept. 13 primary election. It was a magnanimous gesture, but also a politically smart one.
Bangerter's people believed Cook would be 70-percented out of the race Saturday by delegates or eliminated by voters Sept. 13. Either way, Cook's candidacy would be ended once and for all, giving Bangerter a fighting chance against Wilson in the final election.
Cook supporters said they wanted Cook in the convention as well, saying he would get at least 31 percent of the delegate vote and get into a primary against Bangerter, a primary they believe he would win.
Cook said he wouldn't have gone to the convention even if he'd been in town and knew the Crenshaw group wanted him to attend. "I'm an independent candidate, and it would have been inappropriate for me to go."
There was a political catch, however, in all this. Crenshaw admitted that if Cook were put on the delegate ballot and didn't get 30 percent, then it wouldn't be fair to expect him to drop out of the race. Cook "didn't get a chance to address the convention, nor lobby the delegates. Without his consent, he must end his race because delegates he didn't talk to voted against him?"
But if he got more than 30 percent, Crenshaw said Cook would be obligated to run in the GOP primary. Cook, however, said Crenshaw misinterpreted Cook's intentions. "I could have filed to run as a Republican in the days after Jon Huntsman got out of the Republican governor's race. But I didn't. I stayed an independent. And I just couldn't make an end run now to try to get into the party process. At the same time, I appreciate those loyal Republicans who wanted me. I respect their wishes and their efforts," Cook said.
So, under Crenshaw's plan, Cook had little to lose by having his name placed in the convention. If he got 31 percent, he got a GOP primary against Bangerter. If he got less than 30 percent, he could continue his independent candidacy. "He would be tainted, I suppose, if he didn't get 30 percent of the delegate vote. It would show little support," said Crenshaw.
That political catch was the reason Garn et al. wanted Cook to come in person to the convention and promise to abide by the delegates' decision - if he didn't get 30 percent, Cook was out of the race, no independent candidacy. When Cook didn't show, Bangerter's people switched and opposed putting Cook's name on the ballot. Crenshaw tried anyway, but lost 730-714.
All that was politics. There was also a big legal hurdle.
Putting Cook on the convention ballot would be illegal, said Attorney General David Wilkinson. Wilkinson, at the convention seeking re-election and also a delegate, said he wasn't giving an official legal opinion, since the attorney general can give opinions only to government agencies.
However, in an impromptu debate before news reporters in a hallway outside the Cottonwood High School auditorium, Wilkinson told Crenshaw that the convention could act to put Cook on the ballot, but the action would be illegal. "He can't run legally at this late date" because he didn't file as a Republican candidate, Wilkinson said. (renshaw had an opinion from his own attorney saying it would be legal.)
Cook was a Republican. But he filed for governor as an independent, saying he wasn't being given a fair shake by Republican leaders.
That complaint was refuted by Garn and Hatch, who, in their addresses to the convention, admitted that they both asked Cook not to challenge Bangerter, but also pleaded with him that if he did run, he run as a Republican. Cook declined last April to do that. And his no-show at the GOP convention keeps his independent candidacy intact.
The Crenshaw group - most of whom are tax protesters as well as Cook supporters - didn't leave the convention empty handed, however. On Friday night, delegates did allow wording into the GOP state platform recognizing the citizens' right to petition government for changes, including tax cuts. The platform does not, however, endorse the tax petitions.
Hatch, Hansen, Nielson and State Auditor Tom Allen and State Treasurer Ed Alter are all unopposed within the party for re-election and so were nominated routinely. A number of state House and Senate Republicans were also unopposed and so nominated by acclamation. Here are the results of the contested races:
Governor: Bangerter, 1,582 votes (0 percent); Samuels, 361 votes (9 percent); Bangerter is the nominee.
Senate District 27: Calvin Black, 40 votes; Gerald Lloyd, 1 vote; Black is the nominee.
Senate District 29: James Eardley, 52 votes; Dixie Leavitt, 50 votes; they face each other in a primary.
House District 56: Dan Price, 23 votes; George Mathis, 9 votes; Price is the nominee.
House District 71: Tom Christensen, 16 votes; John Hales, 14 votes; they face each other in a primary.
House District 73: Jim Yardley, 34 votes; Ted Gubler, 7 votes; Yardley is the nominee.