A look at the candidates for Utah GOP leadership

With most of the county conventions over, Utah Republican Party delegates will choose new leadership this Saturday morning at UVU. With a turbulent last two years, this promises to be an interesting Convention.

More information can be found at http://utah.gop/2019-state-organizing-convention/

The candidates for Utah Republican Party Chair

  • Derek Brown

Derek Brown

Derek Brown has quite the political history from beating an incumbent Democrat to being deputy chief of staff to Senator Mike Lee. He is very concerned about Utah turning into a blue state. He has seen the surrounding states like Colorado go from red to blue very quickly. Nevada became dysfunctional and went from red to blue. New Mexico is blue and Arizona is purple going blue. If the trends keep going, we may be an endangered species in 10-15 years. We lost a lot of races 2 years ago and sees that being an outspoken conservative in high school is becoming rare. 10,300 Republicans unregistered and registered as something else.

Derek strongly believes that the party needs to come together and focus on getting Republicans elected. SB54 is the law. While in the house, he was able to pass a law limiting what schools could charge the GOP for using them for caucus night. He credits his house win, beating an incumbent Democrat, to the caucus system as the delegates that chose him at convention became a powerful force to help him get elected in the general election.

Derek has a history of building bridges and working on many campaigns. He has worked with donors and has a goal to raise $1 million. Instead of fighting SB54, the party needs to instead strengthen the caucus system. Despite rumors, Derek was not asked to run by the governor.

  • Sylvia Miera-Fisk

Sylvia Fisk

Sylvia Miera-Fisk has quite the family history in Utah. She is a descendant of Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, the mapmaker for Father Escalante. Her father and grandfather were both honored in the 1976 state celebration. Sylvia went to school in Mexico and saw first hand what a huge problem the drug cartels are. She has seen first hand what a huge problem drugs are, with two of her sons becoming addicted (they are now clean).

Sylvia has noticed that there been a huge division in the party but nobody wants to take responsibility. She is willing to take some responsibility, admitting that some of the problems are her fault. She participated in some of these very negative discussions against the party chair, and his wife.

Sylvia is also worried about some of the elitism in the party. We are equal in governing the party. Nobody is more important than anybody else. Some or the smaller and more rural counties feel isolated and they should be supported by the state. She believes that people need to work on themselves and take responsibility. People that have been doing this for a very long time are probably part of the problem. She is in favor of term limits. Sylvia does believe that getting along starts at the top.

  • Phill Wright

Phill Wright

Phill didn’t respond to requests to be interviewed, despite multiple attempts.

He currently works as the Vice-President of Government Affairs at Entrata, which includes work for Keep My Voice. He has shown a lot of leadership on the SCC opposing the current chair. Phill contacted delegates to call the two special meetings and was instrumental in passing the bylaw that the current chair refused to submit, citing it broke the law.

This author was approached by Phill at that SCC meeting, where Phill tried to use physical intimidation and told the author that he wasn’t allowed to be there, which wasn’t true.

  • Chadwick Fairbanks

Chadwick Fairbanks

Chadwick didn’t respond to requests to be interviewed, despite multiple attempts. He managed to secure himself on the State Central Committee by creating a veterans’ caucus. When this author joined that caucus, he never heard back from them.




The candidates for Republican Party Vice-Chair

  • Aaron Starks

Aaron Starks

Aaron Starks works as a general manager for Franklin Covey over Asia. They train organizations and schools regarding management. He works with 15 partners in 17 countries. In his roles, he helps manage these partnerships.

Aaron sees that the SCC lacks a unified vision and strategy. The delegates are saying that nothing is being accomplished. Aaron believes that the party needs to focus on recruiting, developing, and placing talent into positions of governance. He knows that the party must end the SB54 fight and focus on taking back the seats that we lost.

The party needs to have the funds to hire a communications director. Through talking to hundreds of delegates, he estimates 85% want to stop the SB54 fight. If people still want to fight it then they can use their own time and resources. Aaron wants to help make the caucus great again. The data shows a misalignment between the caucus and the rest of the party. The caucus needs to be much more inclusive and we need to see more new faces joining. When asked if his travel schedule would interfere with his duties, he said he controls his travel schedule and could work around it.

  • Kera Birkeland

Kera Birkeland

Kera Birkeland serves as the current vice-chair, replacing Joni Crane mid-term. She is running for reelection. She and her husband were foster parents for seven years and have six kids, with the youngest being almost adopted. Kera has experience teaching preschool and refereeing basketball.

She sees so many really good people in the party but a complete lack of trust. Kera believes many SCC members feel betrayed by SB54 and that the poor behavior on the SCC had really hurt relationships with legislators. Unfortunately, some people are stuck on tearing others down.

Kera believes that David Bateman was trying to do something very positive by helping donate to the party but the way he has been treated has discouraged other potential donors. Just as referees don’t contradict each other, party officials shouldn’t publicly disagree if at all possible. People should be pulled aside and talked to without it become a bigger issue. You can stand up without attacking and you don’t need to step down to the level of those attacking. She has dealt with the extreme end with foster care, having kids consistently lie. Sometimes you just need to let your reputation speak for itself.

To increase civility, Kera created a civility pledge with others on the SCC and has had many signs on to it. Kera is worried about the efforts to remove auxiliaries from the SCC as it may disenfranchise young voters.

  • Lane Ronnow

Lane Ronnow

Lane has quite the history interviewing many political people, including Rand Paul, for his show, “A Story to Tell”. He is quite concerned about party operations and wants to make things work better. Lane has served in various capacities, including Weber County Chair and a legislative district chair in Salt Lake. He currently lives in St. George and has family up north that he could stay with when more time at the office is needed.

Lane doesn’t like SB54 and feels it just makes it easier for rich candidates to bypass the caucus system. He realizes though, that the party is out of resources to fight it and should stop for now. When asked about attracting donors, Lane said he is effective at bringing people together and doesn’t make enemies. He is retired now and has the time to do it. He has in the works a fundraising project that will raise 1.5 million for the party statewide.

His campaign is focusing on Efficiency, Economy, and Transparency. Meetings should be open and transparent and we should use technology to make things more efficient.

As an author I would like to mention that Lane sent over his corrections in the easiest format to update the article.

The candidates of Utah State Party Secretary

  • Lisa Shepherd

Lisa Shepherd

Lisa has filled both a partial term and a full term as party secretary. She has been busy trying to get everything done. Lisa listens to meetings over and over again to makes sure she has a more balanced approach. She prides herself in 100% attendance, including extra meeting. Lisa has been the subject of much controversy, though, with eight party interns signing a letter saying that Lisa created “a hostile work environment for us as well as the UTGOP staff” and that “Lisa Shepherd has demonstrated by her actions that she is unfit for this office[.]”


This largely comes from an incident where Lisa came into the office repeatedly asking for access to the chair’s email, even after being told ‘no.’ She was recording everything on a camera. The interns had no idea where the recording was even going. This wasn’t the only incident. When asked about this, Lisa admitted to going in and asking for access to the Chair’s email and recording it but insisted she only asked once. When asked to see the video she declined.  More information can be found at in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Lisa created more controversy by choosing to put her name in a random drawing to be on the committee to investigate current chair, Rob Anderson, despite a clear conflict of interest as both a party officer and one of those accusing Rob. Several members of the SCC approached her and asked her not to do it, explaining the conflicts she had with participating. She saw no rule violations and saw it as her duty to serve on it.

There was another controversy during the last state convention. Lisa and the Constitution and Bylaws Chair accused the Republican Party Chair, Rob Anderson, of not forwarding bylaw proposals on to them. It was quickly proven that the documents had indeed been forwarded.

This author has had difficulty getting documents from Lisa. When asked for minutes or bylaws that were passed, Lisa refused to send them. She claimed that she could not send them as they were not approved but could not cite any rule supporting that. Other groups regularly publish unapproved minutes.

There have been some rumors Lisa didn’t help very much with Mia Love’s campaign. Amelia Powers (in charge of Utah County field operations) and Aaron Bullen, both said that she was there alongside them putting in a lot of hours.

  • Kendra Seeley

Kendra Seeley

Kendra Seeley has been the chair of Carbon County for the past four years. She took over just as the first Republican was elected. They have been able to flip all three commissioners, all the house seats, and double their caucus attendance. Carbon County is now totally Republican. Kendra is very concerned about the party infighting and that we have been so divided for so long. We need somebody to bring us back together and getting good Republicans elected. Kendra is glad that the role of a secretary is very well defined. She has a particular strength with organization. She is a stay at home mom but also does minutes for the local water board and helps do statistics for athletic teams.

Kendra believes that the lawsuit has promoted a lot of the party infighting. We need to let the legislature do the legislative work, let the chair set the party direction, and let the SCC govern the party. It is not the role of the secretary to get into the middle of it. Kendra said that as a party we need to be more transparent to gain trust. Meetings need to be more accessible so people feel part of the process. It only takes 106 signatures in Carbon County to get on the ballot and we need to improve the caucus to be something that the people want to use.

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