Utah Republican Party investigates scandal at state convention

MIDVALE – The Utah Republican Party has released the findings of an investigation into the scandal and drama at the Republican State Convention.

The race for the Republican nomination for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District was the site of an uproar at the state convention in April. During a speech to delegates, candidate Milt Hanks accused four of his fellow candidates of creating a conspiracy to prevent candidate Chris Stewart from winning the nomination.

At least one candidate became upset onstage, the microphone was cut off at least once, and state delegates were left confused about the situation.

State delegate Steve Kelley made a motion for the Utah Republican Party chairman to conduct an investigation into the events. The investigation has been completed and the findings have been released. You can read the entire report here or here (pdf).

St. George News previously reported on the events at the convention here.

The centerpiece of this scandal was an anonymous letter attacking candidate Stewart. Several state delegates received copies of this letter in the mail with no return address and no “paid for by” or “endorsed by” disclaimer.

The Federal Election Commission requires these disclaimers on any public communications, including mass mailings.

Hanks said he was handed a copy of the letter while in a mall in Provo. He said he was approached by a woman who asked him if he was Milt Hanks, and after he confirmed he was, he said she gave him the negative letter.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright concluded in his seven page investigative report that he believes that Hanks “acted according to his conscience but he did not consider the full impact his actions would have on the elections or on the reputations of these individuals and their families…” Wright also noted that “the burden was on Mr. Hanks to prove his allegations and he has been unable to do so.”

Wright found no evidence of wrongdoing by any 2nd Congressional District candidates.

Cherilyn Eagar, candidate for the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District, said she is glad Wright found no evidence of wrongdoing but that the matter merits more investigation.

“We’re glad that he has found that we had nothing to do with the anonymous letter and with any conspiracy against any candidate, but we are still trying to figure out who did it,” Eagar said. “Rather than shove it under the carpet we think that we owe it to the delegates, the party and the voters to research it a little bit further.”

Eagar said she will contact St. George News when she learns more.

Candidate Howard Wallack also said he believes there should be more investigation.

“There’s still just too many questions. That someone would walk up the day before a convention, that someone would walk into a mall in Provo, which is not even in the 2nd District… an anonymous person, who is one of the very few who received this anonymous mailing, happens to bump into Milt Hanks and recognizes him and hands him a copy of this. I mean it’s a little absurd,” Wallack said.

“(Hanks) then goes home and in a couple of hours pens a six-minute speech, which he is then able to deliver with precision (at the convention) without the use of a teleprompter,” Wallack said. “It just seems a little unrealistic to me.”

Candidate Jeramey McElhaney said the results of the investigation are what he expected them to be.

“It’s almost the exact same words that I told Thomas (Wright) that I thought was what happened. But at the end of the day it’s not going to be beneficial to the Republican party to have a big fight over it at this point,” McElhaney said.

“I know all the candidates, obviously, spent a lot of time with them over the past few months, and I think for the most part they’re good people. I’d say all of them are good people,” McElhaney said. “I mean it’s unfortunate the way it happened and I’m positive that votes were changed because of what Milt Hanks had said, but I think that the findings are about what I expected them to be.”

McElhaney also mentioned the investigative limitations of the Republican party.

“The Utah Republican party is not a criminal investigative body, it’s a political party. So it’s like anything else – you assume people are telling the truth,” McElhaney continued. “Thomas (Wright) didn’t call up all 11 candidates, I guess, and have them swear on a Bible to tell the truth, but I think everybody told the truth or at least their viewpoint of it.”

Candidate Bob Fuehr is disappointed at the events.

“We had good people running, it’s a shame that this thing had to come up from wherever it came,” Fuehr said.

“With going from county convention to county convention you get to know (all of the candidates),” Fuehr continued. “It’s like a traveling band of vagabonds that go from convention to convention. One day…we started at 8 a.m. in St George, and 1 p.m. in Cedar (City), and ended up in Beaver at 6 (p.m.)…It’s really a shame that something had to come up to disrupt the process.”

Candidate John Willoughby is happy with his fellow candidates but unhappy with Hanks’ conduct.

“My fellow candidates conducted themselves admirably during the campaign and, with one exception, I have nothing but respect for each of them,” Willoughby said. “Notwithstanding, I am very troubled by the abhorrable behavior of Milton Hanks. I don’t know what his motivation was…but there is no doubt that his despicable conduct swayed the outcome of the nomination process. In light of his convenient and selective memory loss, I’m afraid we’ll never get to the bottom of what really happened.”

Candidate Jason Buck is also unhappy with Hanks’ actions.

“The process was definitely manipulated by Milt Hanks, who went in there premeditated with malicious intent,” Buck said. “It was just a bad moment for the state Republican party because the people’s interests in the end weren’t represented well. I think Milt Hanks did everybody a disservice with what he did.”

Chris Stewart won the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District. Stewart’s official statement reads:

“I am grateful to Chairman Wright and his staff for the work they have performed in compiling this report.  After a thorough review, my campaign staff and I are satisfied with the results.  We are now looking forward to the general election and, if we are successful, going back to Washington DC and joining the fight to save our nation at this critical time.”

St. George News attempted to contact all 11 candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District before publishing this story.

Email: [email protected] Attn: Tracie McFarlin

Twitter: @TracieMcFarlin

Copyright 2012 St. George News

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