Utah GOP ousts chair who waged divisive court battle

Utah GOP chairman Rob Anderson, center, speaks during the Utah GOP Convention Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Sandy, Utah. Anderson was elected as the new chairman of the Utah Republican Party, defeating both incumbent chairman James Evans and current Vice Chairman Phill Wright. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SANDY, Utah (AP) — Utah Republicans ousted their two-term state party chair and rejected a proposal to endorse medical marijuana at the party’s annual convention Saturday.

The group of about 2,200 core GOP members elevated a county party leader who promised to tackle the party’s financial issues following a divisive legal battle.

Rob Anderson has been critical of Republican leaders’ handling of a contentious law changing how political parties nominate candidates.

Anderson, who served as Davis County party chair, will replace James Evans. He lost his bid for an unusual third term in the first round of voting after waging a legal battle over the 2014 nominating law.

Under his leadership, the party sued the state, arguing the law unconstitutionally dictated to the GOP, a private organization, how they should pick their candidates. A federal judge ruled against the GOP but the party is appealing to a federal appeals court in Denver.

Anderson wants to drop the fight and move on.

The convention delegates also soundly rejected a proposal to endorse medical marijuana, with 70 percent voting against the idea following a spirited debate.

Supporters argued the drug can have life-changing effects for patients. Opponents said it hasn’t been fully vetted and expressed concern that allowing medical use could lead to full legalization.

The cause has been embraced by the party’s liberal wing, but conservative leaders have balked. Utah’s Republican governor and GOP-dominated Legislature have rejected plans to pass a medical marijuana law for three years in a row.

The party’s annual convention gives Utah’s governor, congressional delegation and other top officials a chance to speak to party activists and longtime loyalists in speeches in front of a packed exhibition hall and in more intimate encounters as Republicans mingle with elected officials at their official campaign booths.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz became emotional as he gave his final convention address as a congressman. The chair of the House Oversight Committee highlighted his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, among other things.

Chaffetz announced Thursday that he’ll resign on June 30 to spend more time with his family.

The names of Republicans jockeying to replace him were plastered around the expo center in Sandy as candidates hoped to stand out from the crowd of at least half a dozen potential GOP candidates in a special election later this year.

The convention opened with pushback on Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah from the state’s two U.S. senators. In a video speech, Vice President Mike Pence called Hatch a key factor in bringing about an executive order reviewing national monuments. Fellow Senator Mike Lee, though, drew a more robust round of applause.


Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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