By Kent Larsen
Cannon, Cook, Others Seek to Lead Utah Republicans
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- It's always been a little tough to be a
Democrat in mostly-Republican Utah. Apparently, it's getting just a
little bit tougher to be a Republican as well. In stark contrast to
the past, when the Utah Republican Party appeared to be fairly
conservative and monolithic, new factions and coalitions are emerging
to challenge the current GOP direction and status quo. All of this
indicates that the upcoming selection of the State Chairman for the
GOP Party may turn into quite a fracas.
The changing face of the GOP contingent was brought into sharp focus
at the state GOP candidate-nominating convention last year when
disaffected members of the Party loudly booed perennial Party
favorites Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Mike Leavitt. GOP Party officials
are concerned that they might see a repeat performance if the same
group turns out for the organizing convention to be held later this
year. The rogue Republicans represent a vocal and growing contingent
within the GOP party that feel mainstream representatives have lost
touch with Utah's core GOP base, who want to see more active
leadership regarding morals issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
The cast of characters in this political drama are diverse and, quite
possibly, divisive. First of all, there is the probable GOP "favorite
son" candidate, Joe Cannon. Cannon is graduate of J. Reuben Clark Law
School and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. He is best characterized as a fiscal conservative
with moderate views on social issues and is best known in the state
of Utah as the erstwhile savior of Geneva Steel a decade ago. Cannon,
a favorite amongst GOP party insiders, has all but officially
announced that he wants to be the next state chairman. His
prospective candidacy has excited party organizers and officials
because they expect Cannon to unite the various factions within the
party, including those who complain of being abandoned and
Next, in the role of the proverbial "prodigal son," we find the
ever-mercurial Merrill Cook. Many of those among the Party faithful
who are disenchanted with the current direction of the Utah GOP are
closely aligned with Cook and his populist ideas. Cook, who has an
almost rabid following in some quarters, is also running for GOP
party chairman and is expected to receive support from at least a
third of the delegates.
A "dark horse" contender, Vicki McCall, chairs a Cabinet-level
advisory board in the Defense Department. McCall, an Ogden real
estate broker, says she has not been approached to run for chairman,
but is flattered that her name was mentioned. While party insiders
seriously doubt that McCall is a strong candidate, her name is
frequently mentioned when Republican party faithful study possible
leadership scenarios. Certainly, her close ties to Utah power brokers
like Congressman Jim Hansen indicate that she bears watching as the
GOP seeks new direction and new leadership.
Finally, there are the "spoilers," relative newcomers who are not
necessarily the choice of the GOP party elite, but have made
significant inroads in the recent past. These prospective candidates,
Glen Davis and Greg Hawkins, have individually and collectively
challenged Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Leavitt, arguably the most
powerful men in Utah outside of the Church office building. Davis
successfully forced Leavitt into a primary election, lost to Leavitt,
and then endorsed Democratic gubernatorial challenger Bill Orton.
Hawkins nearly forced Hatch into a primary, then joined forces with
Davis as his running mate during the Republican primary election.
Although you'll need a scorecard to keep track of the players, this
year's GOP organizing convention promises to be a departure from the
norm and may even rise to the level of exciting and entertaining.
Just one more indication that it's no longer business as usual for
the GOP in Utah.
Utah Republicans Seek Leader to Build Bridge to Conservatives
Salt Lake Tribune 8Apr01 T2
By Paul Rolly: Salt Lake Tribune