ST. GEORGE — Washington County Republicans met for their annual organizing convention Saturday to elect a new party chair and consider two resolutions – one supporting the name of Dixie State University and the other censuring Sen. Mitt Romney for his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump.
The convention was held at Crimson Cliffs High School in Washington Fields, with over 300 delegates attending in person and more than 100 participating over Zoom. In all, 80% of the party’s delegates were recognized to be involved in this year’s convention.
“The state of the Washington County Republican Party is good,” party Chair Jimi Kestin said.
Among the highlights of the last year for the county party was coming out of 2020 in the black as far as the budget goes, and being able to donate $10,000 to Congressman Burgess Owens’ election campaign through the state party.
Last year also saw the annual county convention held entirely online due to COVID-19, which Kestin said he was glad they weren’t doing a second time.
Saturday’s convention also marked Kestin’s last as the party chair. He was elected in 2017 and served two terms before deciding to step away. He is being succeeded by former party secretary Lesa Sandberg.
Sandberg beat fellow party chair candidate Mary Burkett for the position in a vote of 298 to 123.
It was noted that Sandberg may be the first woman to chair the Washington County Republican Party. While she said it was an exciting prospect, she added, “I’m not really into that gender stuff. Whoever is best prepared and best ready to serve is who we should vote for.”
As for Kestin, he ran for one of the county party’s six State Central Committee positions and won it, along with Larry Meyers, Nate Brooksby, Adlai Elison, Michelle Boulter and Kurt Ivie.
The remainder of county party positions ran unopposed.
The Washington County GOP also passed two resolutions – one supporting the Dixie State University name and another censoring Romney – though not without some opposition.
New party chair
“I’ve excited to the next two years,” Sandberg said after learning she had won.
Among Sandberg’s primary goals for the party is promoting caucus attendance and increasing it.
“That’s my biggest concern, that we don’t have enough people attending at caucus. And because of that, people don’t feel represented,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg also extended an invitation to other Republicans and independent voters in the county to read the party’s platform and see if the values presented in it align with their own. If so, Sandberg said, “Come caucus with us.”
Resolution supporting Dixie
As delegates waited on the results of party chair and State Central Committee elections, resolutions were discussed and passed. The first of these was sponsored by Kestin, which puts the county GOP’s support behind keeping Dixie in the name of Dixie State university.
Advocates for removing “Dixie” from the name of the university said it can harm a prospective graduate’s chances of finding employment due the negative connotations the word has outside of Southern Utah. Supporters of the Dixie name argue efforts to remove it are an example of “cancel culture” and an attempt to bury a part of the area’s history. The matter was also addressed in the Utah Legislature.
“The Dixie Spirit is that spirit of cooperation and unity that transcends differences and works toward equality of lifestyle which generations of Utah’s Dixie families have contributed toward building,” Kestin read from the resolution. “It is the firm belief of the members of this conversion that the real harm caused by cancel culture advocates in our society is greater than the perceived challenges of a minority of Dixie State University graduates in the job market.”
Standing to oppose the resolution was delegate Henrie Walton. He didn’t argue for or against the Dixie name, but rather that the resolution was a waste of time. He said it is the party’s business to select conservative candidates, and not to take a stand on the Dixie name issue, which he called divisive and distracting.
“This is a divisive issue we do not need to address as a party,” he said.
When a vote was called, the loud “Ayes” in the crowd were loud and decisive compared to the handful of “nays” that followed.
Former St. George Mayor Jon Pike, who attended the conversion, was among the nay votes, and said he agreed with Walton’s position.
“It’s a divisive issue and also a legislative issue,” Pike said. “I think we ought to go though the process that’s been laid out by the Legislature and weigh in and give our opinions, but I don’t think the Republican Party needs to be weighing in on such a decisive issue.
The second resolution came from Meyers, who said Romney needed to be held accountable for how he voted in former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trials held in early 2020 and shortly after he left office earlier this year.
“The Republican Party has to stand for our principles and we have to stand by our president and we have to stand by the Constitution,” Meyers said. “I don’t think this is going to change the senator. He doesn’t care what we say here today, but it sends a message to all Trump voters who are frustrated because the Utah Republican Party sat on their hands and said nothing about Romney’s votes to remove our president.”
A delegate from Ivins stood up in opposition to the resolution and asked how many people there had seen and reviewed all of the evidence afforded the Senate during the impeachments. He also asked how many people can make an “oath before God” to be an “impartial judge,” as Romney said he had during the original round of impeachment hearings. Romney should not be censured for doing what he felt was correct based on the evidence he had been given, the man said.
Voting on the resolution had to be done twice as the “ayes” and “nays” were voiced with equal force and volume. Delegates were made to stand next, with the majority standing in favor of the censure to those who stood in opposition to it.
Other items of note
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, shared a recap of work done during the 2021 general legislative session. However, just because the session was over didn’t mean Utah’s legislators weren’t busy, he said.
An issue that lawmakers are currently working on and will likely come up in a special session is moving legislation forward declaring Utah a 2nd Amendment sanctuary state.
Thus far, it has been a complicated process to undertake, Vickers said.
The Washington County Republican Party will be holding its Lincoln Day Dinner on June 19 at the Dixie Convention Center, with noted conservative commentator Candace Owens highlighted as the guest speaker.
While Sandberg said the county party is excited for the event, it has also sold out. Revenue for the event is estimated to bring in over $80,000.
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