Party chair candidate and current chair James Evans speaks to delegates before voting during the 2017 Utah Republican Party State Organizing Convention at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy on Saturday, May 20, 2017.
SANDY — The Utah GOP has a new chairman, Rob Anderson.
Delegates to the state Republican Party convention voted Saturday for Anderson, who just finished a term as Davis County GOP chairman, over the state party’s two-term chairman, James Evans, and vice chairman, Phill Wright.
“I want to change this party for the better,” Anderson told delegates, calling for an audit of party finances because of debts run up as a result of the legal battle over the law allowing candidates to bypass the party’s caucus and convention system.
Anderson has said he will advise the party’s governing State Central Committee to drop the case pending before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, signaling a new and more moderate direction for Utah Republicans.
Evans was critical of both Anderson and Wright in his speech to delegates, asking for their support in what he called difficult times for the party because he has “never taken my eye off the ball.”
Wright pledged to defend the caucus and convention system that gives delegates the ability to nominate candidates for the general election ballot. The new law, known as SB54, allows candidates to gather voter signatures to get on a primary ballot.
More than 2,000 delegates eliminated Evans in the first round of voting, and then chose Anderson over Wright in a run-off round, giving Anderson more than 56 percent of the vote.
The party convention included appearances by top elected GOP officials.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was introduced via video by Vice President Mike Pence. Hatch, expected by many to run for an eighth term in 2018, used his time on stage to make a presentation to San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman.
Lyman, seen as a leader of the public lands movement, was given a signed copy of President Donald Trump’s executive order calling for a review of national monuments designated by past presidents since 1996, including Bears Ears.
Pence told the delegates Hatch’s “unyielding persistence” was a key factor in Trump’s decision to issue the order.
“On public lands and so many other issues, the president looks to Sen. Orrin Hatch as someone he can trust, just like you,” Pence said. The vice president said Hatch’s “tireless work will make a difference for generations to come.”
Although Hatch received only a smattering of applause, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was cheered repeatedly by the delegates, especially when he waved a copy of the U.S. Constitution and urged delegates to read it and “vote accordingly.”
Before the 10 a.m. start of the annual convention, delegates crowded around to hear from Republican officials, including Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as the candidates for party leadership posts.
And even though the election process for filling the congressional seat being vacated June 30 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, was just announced Friday, candidates were out in force at the convention.