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Saturday, April 25, 2009
The Utah County Republican Party Nominating Convention: Miscellaneous Notes

It was a full house. The Lincoln impersonators who sang the national anthem knew almost all the words. Some interesting things were said in speeches. And Senator Orrin Hatch is a class act.

Long-time readers with exceptionally sharp memories may recall my having some real fun here at the blog with the 2007 Utah County Republican Party Organizing Convention. During election years, you see, there is a nominating convention, where candidates for public office are . . . nominated. But during the off years, such as this one, the delegates vote on party leaders and a variety of business items.

Two years ago my notes written in the minutes before the convention mused playfully about square donuts, a complimentary Chris Cannon water bottle that leaned to the left, a fellow who thought the men's room was an appropriate place to lobby for his resolution, and my own tongue-in-cheek preparations to vote (quite seriously) against a resolution opposing "Satan's Plan." (In case you lost track of the last part of that sentence, for which you could hardly be blamed, I was, in a manner of speaking, voting for "Satan's Plan," so-called, because the delegate sponsoring the resolution opposed what he thinks is Satan's Plan, and I opposed him. But in the end there was no vote, because there was no quorum.) I later added more chatter about the proceedings of that convention itself, including the offensive resolution. You can read all that if you like.

The flavor of today's convention was much the same as two years ago, with current elected officials speaking and a handful of delegates wrangling about this rule or that agenda item, in addition to voting and the statements by and about candidates for Party office. I didn't have a chance to notice whether there were square donuts or left-leaning beverages this time, but there was another anti-Satan resolution.

I don't intend to offer a comprehensive account of proceedings here, just a few miscellaneous notes and then, in a subsequent post, some discussion of a resolution and the problems it reveals in the Party. [Later addition: There's a much more detailed account, with photos, at what appears to be Provo delegate Christy Gomm's blog.]

The convention was held at Canyon View Junior High in Orem. Every meeting I attended, small or large, was standing room only. 847 of 1227 delegates actually atttended, about 69 percent. This is much higher than usual for one of these off-year organizing conventions. My compliments to my fellow delegates for their excellent participation.

Provo Mayor Lewis Billings did a superb job chairing the convention. Platform Chair LauraLyn Eberting, whom I singled out for praise two years ago, excelled again in her few minutes at the microphone. (I'll bet she knows the words to the national anthem.)

Before the general session, there were meetings in smaller rooms with state senators and representatives. The session with my state senator, John Valentine, was fairly typical. He talked about matters of interest and answered a wide range of questions. The session with my representative, John Dougall, was less typical. He led an interesting discussion about ways we might go about engaging many more people than are already involved in the Party and the political process generally. Some folks thought that reading aloud to people from the works of Cleon Skousen would help, along with debating who is more conservative than thou. Numerous others had sounder and more interesting thoughts. John Dougall himself handled it all gracefully. He has long been one of my favorite politicians.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators sang the national anthem at the beginning of the general session. They were good singers. But Abe's late mother must have been whirling dervishly in her mausoleum; he didn't take off his hat indoors, despite having been taught better, I am sure. Maybe it was a case of doing what the Romans do, when one is in Rome. Alas, men in Utah County, for all their virtues, quite often wear their hats or caps indoors, no matter what their mothers (should have) taught them. In any case I enjoyed hearing an additional verse of the anthem ("Oh thus be it ever . . ."). But I would have been more impressed if the singers had not made a few small mistakes in the wording of both the verses they sang.

While I'm nitpicking, I'll note that one candidate for party office said, "In times like these the status quo isn't good enough." It's not that I disagree with this platitude. But if it led to times like these, must we not conclude that the status quo was never good enough?

There were more good people running for Party office than there were offices for them to win. I was impressed by some who didn't win. But more to the point, a bizarre thing happened today: Everyone for whom I voted . . . won.

Among the speakers, Lieutenant Governor Gary Herbert cited a Pew study saying Utah is the best governed of the 50 states, a Forbes article reporting that Utah is the best state in which to do business these days, and another study from I-don't-remember-where concluding that Utah is the state best poised for economic recovery.

State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who to all appearances is rebounding well from some serious medical challenges, expressed his gratitude for many kind thoughts and prayers, his determination to enforce a new Utah law related to illegal immigrants (except the part that federal law requires to be optional, which is the part in the news lately), and talked about a do-not-contact registry in Utah where one can sign up to stop adult-oriented e-mail, instant messaging, and phone solicitations. He noted wryly that the pornographers are complying well with this new Utah law, but he's having some trouble with the beer companies.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz was the day's rock star, gathering cheers whenever his name was mentioned, let alone when he stood to speak. Everyone seems to love him as a politician, your humble blogger excepted. I'm willing to be persuaded that he's more of a workhorse than a showhorse, but I'm not there yet.

Senator Robert Bennett shared some history, as he apparently is wont to do when someone hands him a microphone, and discussed the need for Republicans in Washington to pick battles carefully, where they can win. He listed some where there have recently been wins, or where it appears there will be: blocking the President's desire to reduce the tax deductibility of charitable contributions, preventing adoption of the much-ballyhooed "cap and trade" tax, and injecting some sanity on the subject of oil and gas leases on federal land.

I was pleased that the delegates did not boo Senator Orrin Hatch, either when his presence was acknowledged or when he spoke. He has had some rough conventions that way in recent years. You'd think that the politically active, of all people, would understand that to accomplish anything in the legislative world, one must frequently compromise with others who have different priorities and ideals. There is an important difference between compromising principles and comprising on policies in order to accomplish what can be accomplished in any given situation. And it's okay to make friends with people who disagree, or so I thought. I sometimes wonder whether what offends Utah Republicans most about Senator Hatch is not his personal friendship with Ted Kennedy. I guess I missed the lecture in Republicanism 101 where they explained that one must be uncivil toward all political opponents. Some of my best friends are -- brace yourself -- liberals.

I've had an earful of conservative resentments about Orrin Hatch for decades. But when I worked at the US Senate for a while, and on other occasions when I have heard him explain what's going on and why certain things are done or not done, or are done differently than some might prefer, I have found him intelligent, candid, and usually persuasive. Policies aside, I have long thought something which I thought again yesterday, and wrote in my notes and underlined twice: Senator Orrin Hatch is a class act. This is not universally true of elected officials on Capitol Hill. It is not universally true of members of the Utah Republican Party. I hope others were as impressed as I was yesterday, on this point.

As noted, the next post will discuss a certain resolution and a problem of which it is a symptom.

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