Republican delegates look forward to serving their neighborhoods as they vet candidates

Members of the Washington County Republican Party gather in a neighborhood precinct at Dixie High School, St. George, Utah, March 20, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – While their numbers weren’t what they were during 2016 when the United States presidency was up for grabs, many Republicans faithfully attended their neighborhood caucus meetings Tuesday night.

Members of the Washington County Republican Party gather in a neighborhood precinct at Dixie High School, St. George, Utah, March 20, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Several precincts consisting of between 30 and 40 Republicans met at Dixie High School and went about the business of electing precinct new chairs and vice chairs, as well as delegates to send to the county and state Republican nominating conventions in April.

Greg Whitehead, who was elected to be a county and state delegate, said he’s been participating in the caucus meetings since he was old enough to vote.

“The feel I get from the caucus meetings is it feels like a republic,” he said. “We have a neighborhood that votes a voice for the neighborhood and it’s good to be able to know the neighbors can rely on you to study and learn (about) the candidates and vote appropriately.”

Read more: Washington County Democrats focus on issues at ‘grassroots’ caucus meetings

The precincts themselves are clusters of neighborhoods. Those neighbors then meet in caucus to elect the delegates to be their voice at the county and state level when nominating conventions are held. At those conventions they will vote on who they want to be the county and state Republican Party’s sanctioned candidate in the November election.

Doug Solstad (light blue shirt) was elected to be a delegate for his precinct. It will be his duty to learn about the candidates vying for the Republican nomination for certain positions. Those candidates will be voted on by the delegate in county and state nominating conventions in April. Members of the Washington County Republican Party gather in a neighborhood precinct at Dixie High School, St. George, Utah, March 20, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Between caucus night and the conventions, it is delegates responsibility to study and vet the candidates vying for the party’s nomination, as well as to listen what their neighbors have to say on the matter. Republican candidates who want the party’s nomination for county, state and federal-level positions court the delegates for their vote

“I’m not supporting anyone at this point,” newly elected delegate Doug Solstad said.

“I want to collect the information from the candidates and see what the information is made available and hear from my precinct and see what they have to say before I make a decision,” he said.

Solstad said he’s looking forward to helping his neighbors vet the candidates.

Mary Burkett, who attended her neighborhood caucus meeting and is running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District against incumbent and fellow Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, said it’s her experience that the delegates can play hardball while vetting the candidates.

“The delegates take their job very seriously,” Burkett said. “They are the ones who will look you in the eye and ask you a question, and they ask you about hard stuff.”

Detractors of the caucus-convention system have said the delegates are out of touch with mainsteam and moderate Utah voters and tend to pick more far-right and extreme candidates. This was an argument made during the original run of the Count My Vote ballot initiative.

2nd Congressional District candidate Mary Burkett shakes the hand of a caucus attendee and gives out a flyer prior to the caucus meeting, St. George, Utah, March 20, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Read more: Trust voters or know candidates? Count My Vote rallies politicians, groups on both sides – from 2014

That initiative ultimately morphed into the SB 54 compromise law that allows candidates to gather signatures to get on the ballot in order to bypass the delegate-vetting process. Before the law passed in 2014, the caucus-convention system was the only path to the ballot for candidates in any party, and it was called too exclusive and restrictive by opponents of the process.

As to the argument the delegates are out of touch and choosing extremist candidates, Burkett said that accusation was silly.

“That’s kind of silly when they were voted for by regular voters – regular people,” she said. “They aren’t anymore right or left than anyone else.”

Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, who represents House District 75, said he is an avid supporter of the caucus-convention system himself, yet believes the process has a problem with transparency.

Caucus attendees line up inside Dixie High School to learn which rooms their precinct meeting is being held in, St. George, Utah, March 20, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We don’t know who our delegates vote for in a caucus system,” he said, saying that as a legislator, his votes are public and posted online. He said he believes the same should be done for county and state delegates when they vote at the conventions.

“I think the delegate votes should be public and transparent,” he said, adding transparency was one of the principles the Republican Party stands for.

Besides, Brooks said, if the votes were public, it may spur others within the precinct to step forward and run to be a delegate if they don’t like how the former delegate voted.

Brooks is running unopposed within the Republican Party for District 75, though will be facing off against two third-party candidates in the general election.

Read more: Candidates line up for 2018 federal, state and county races

Other legislative races that impact Washington County, such as House Districts 62, 71, 73 and 74 and Senate District 28 are also unopposed with the Republican Party.

The only race running with multiple Republican candidates on the county level is for Washington County Commission Seat A. Republicans in that race are Gil Almquist, Slade Wilson and Allen J. Davis. The incumbent, Commissioner Zachary Renstrom, chose not to run for re-election.

On the federal level, Rep. Chris Stewart faces two Republican candidates for the 2nd Congressional District, while retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Senate seat has attracted 12 Republicans, including St. George attorney Larry Meyers and former 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • Not_So_Much March 21, 2018 at 5:54 am

    Since Mitt Romney IS collecting signatures to be on the primary ballot so that no matter what happens in the state GOP st convention Mitt will be in the primary, I hope the delegates will find a candidate to give voters a real choice. A good place to start looking is St George’s own constitutional conservative Larry Meyers, who is NOT collecting signatures . The only way Larry Meyers will be on the primary election is if he wins enough delegates at the convention. If you want smaller constitutional federal government look beyond Mitt Romney.

  • Death Valley March 21, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Republicans better get themselves ready for what’s about to happen to them in mid-terms.
    Judging by that photo, most of them won’t be alive long enough to see their party die. The GOP is D O N E.

  • PatriotLiberal March 22, 2018 at 12:12 am

    I attended the Republican Caucus at a school here in town. It was absolutely disgusting to me that there was -maybe- 10 people in the room. The meeting lasted 2 hours. We were treated to 2 videos. 1 was an explanation of the party platform and the other was a video on why the caucus is so great. The other hour and a half was dedicated to the chairman BEGGING someone, ANYONE to stand up and volunteer to be 1 of 5 delegates. I’m sad to see that it was the same at other places and among the democrats.

    I’m against the Caucus system because I don’t want to give my vote to anyone else. Why should I give someone else the power to decide who gets on the ballot? IMHO, giving someone else that power is lazy and stupid.

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