A look at the candidates for Utah GOP leadership

by John Mulholland

The Utah GOP will elect new leadership this Saturday. There are some great candidates running and it is time for the state delegates to choose who to support. If you aren’t a state delegate then make sure to contact those that represent you to let them know what issues are important to you and whom you support.

In order to help people make a more informed decision, I have spent time interviewing most of the candidates. Despite emailing and calling all of the candidates, one did not respond. The candidates are listed for each position in the order that they responded.

One of the controversial issues is how the party should proceed regarding SB54, the controversial senate bill which allows for dual paths to the ballot. The party sued the state claiming that it violates the right of association. The party lost the lawsuit and is currently appealing.
Another issue is regarding caucus night. How much should the state control and how much should the counties control. Recently there was a change allowing people to bring absentee ballots with them to caucus night. The state currently limits how many ballots each person can bring with them.


Robert Anderson – robandersonut.com

Rob is a pilot for American Airlines and is retired from flying F-15s for the Air Force. He told me about how he was very fortunate to have so much opportunity through the Air Force.

Rob feels that we need to stop spending money on the the lawsuit against SB54. He says that there is nothing conservative about spending money that we as a party do not have. He is quite concerned with the drop in fundraising due to the lawsuit. Instead we need to find ways to compromise and work with our elected officials to repeal SB54. After a two year term he would like to be measured by the financial health of the party. He believes that he has the knowledge to bring donors back because donations are needed to win races.

Rob is very concerned with the state party finances. He is very concerned with the money owed for the lawsuit against SB54. Although we don’t have a date that we have to pay off the legal fees, it is still an outstanding debt. Just because we only have to pay as we raise money, the party still has to pay for the legal services provided to date.

He said that it is important to be inclusive with caucuses and that he would like to find ways to include more people. He believes that local caucus control is better than being run by the state. He would like to see the counties run caucus nights more autonomously and said he was disappointed to see the state exert such control while providing very little in the way of support. He advocates allowing counties to determine how many absentee ballots a person can bring with them. He is actually the only candidate for chair that gave a specific on how to give more control at the county level for caucuses. Rob worries that the present method for running caucuses eliminates the participation of many nighttime occupations as well as parents of young children.

James Evans

James has a degree in chemical engineering from Tuskegee University and worked at Proctor & Gamble and in the Air Force. He used to own Checkline, a payday loan company but has since sold it.

He said that it has been very difficult to navigate SB54 as the party chair but feels that the party has done pretty well despite the challenges. He feels that he was very successful in negotiating for Salt Lake City to become a site for presidential primary debates. Even though it wasn’t used this time, James said it would be used in the future. He also mentioned that while he was chair, Congresswoman Love took the last congressional seat held by a Democrat. The last caucus had the highest turnout, partially due to the presidential primaries, and he even convinced the Trump campaign not to alienate Utahns by neutralizing McMullin as it would hurt other races. Also, as chair, there was a net gain in Republicans in the Legislature, and Carbon County went Republican.

Regarding caucuses, James said that caucus night is a state function that the counties administer. While he is not opposed to counties having more control, the state must ensure consistency of the process across the state. Online voting was done under his leadership. Lessons were learned and he is open to discussions on expanding online voting in coming years to include more people caucus night without having to rent more buildings.

Due to falling donations, James also slashed the budget, which now has a projected surplus. He negotiated with Mumford to only pay for the lawsuit as money was raised, instead of a due date. He tried to avoid Count My Vote before that by running the requested compromise before the State Central Committee. James feels that it is more important that our decisions be independent of donations rather than reach out more to donors. He is trying out other revenue streams such as selling advertising at GOP events.

James agreed that the party still owes the outstanding balance on SB54. While there is no agreement that the debt will be forgiven, James said that the party isn’t financially exposed as the agreement is to only pay back the money as the party raises funds for it.

Phill Wright

Phill is the current party Vice Chair and has a day job working for a credit union. He has been working in financial services for the last 35 years. He previously served as the Davis County Republican chair, Chair of Ted Cruz’s Utah Presidential campaign, was a national delegate for the last presidential election, and was elected by the Utah National Delegates to be the Chair of the Utah Delegation to the RNC convention last July in Cleveland. He told me that it was definitely a very memorable experience.

Phill is a party diehard. He loves the party and said that he agrees 100% with the platform. He firmly believes that the party is a private organization and has the Constitutional right to determine how it advances its candidates to the ballot. He said, “The party’s right is no different than the rights of a Church to determine how it advances people in the priesthood.” “That is the only way to protect the integrity of the organization,” he added. He very much thinks we should continue with the lawsuit. Phill fought against the compromise with Count My Vote that James Evans promoted that eventually led to SB54.

He did propose a somewhat controversial idea of having a legislative affairs committee. This can easily sound like a group of people judging how pure legislators are but Phill was very clear that this was not what the committee was going to do. Their job would be to provide more information to delegates and other republicans. The committee would not grade but would remain neutral. It may highlight certain bills that the party was interested in and help republicans keep up with what is happening in the legislature.

When asked about counties having more control over caucus meeting he agreed. But when asked about specific ideas, such as the counties controlling how many absentee ballots a person can bring to caucus night, he thought the state should have control. He said he supports the change the State Central Committee made to caucus night of allowing a family member to bring in a ballot for another family member who could not attend but does not support unlimited absentee ballots, or absentee ballots collected for several people by one person. Phill believes that each precinct should have control on how they vote and the order of business in their precinct meeting.

He said he wants to get more independents involved in the party by promoting the platform to them. He said,”Our mission is to promote the Platform when we do we bring more people into the party as they discover that they share the same beliefs and ideas. We are not looking for candidates who want to run as Republicans, we are looking for Republicans who want to run as our candidates.”

There have been many rumors floating around regarding Phill. I just asked Phill directly about them. No, he is not planning on replacing Mumford as the attorney. No, he has no role with this Grassroots Republic group. If you hear a rumor, just ask.

Vice Chair

Don Guymon – www.donguymon.com

Don has proudly served the party in the state central committee for almost 20 years. He is a sales manager for his day job and also volunteers as a youth coach. He has served in many positions, including state executive and central committee. He also runs Utah Grassroots, which grades legislators according to his criteria.

Don supports local control of the caucuses, he even sponsored a motion to let precincts decide their voting method. He wants to make caucus night even more accessible and faster. Don also wants to see greater visibility of delegate information. He also wants state delegates to have more power over the central committee.

Natalie Callahan – www.natcallahan.com

Natalie is the current chair of the College Republicans for Utah She also runs a business that handles branding for political groups and government entities. Due to recent negative press, Natalie is concerned about the party’s image and wants to bring her professional skills to help improve it.

She thinks that voters should be able to have a certain expectation of what will happen at caucus night so the party needs to have a uniform system. The party also needs to seek feedback from the average Republican voter via email or phone calls, in order to understand what the average voters want. She said that the party needs to create an even playing field and that likely includes staying neutral in races that involve signature gatherers.

She is running on Message Organize Recruit Elect.

Joni Crane – www.jonicrane.com

Joni has a lot of experience doing volunteer work for the party. She would now like a formal position. She strongly believes that we need to improve our caucus experience. Her experience with the GOP in Texas showed her what SB54 would likely eventually do to Utah politics. It wasn’t the end of the world but the strategy people used was different compared to Utah.

Joni told me that she believes the caucus system is a perfect compliment to the party platform. Serving as the chair of all of the county chairs, she saw that the county parties have very different needs. Joni supported the motion to allows caucus attendees to bring absentee ballots. When asked if she thought the counties should control how many people can bring, she told me that her motion was a start and could be expanded upon. She told me that the party should finish the appeal and continue to be more inclusive when it comes to caucus night.

Joe Levi – www.joelevi.com

Joe has a background in technology and currently does web work for Lifetime. He served as vice-chair for Davis County under Phill Wright and would like the opportunity to serve at the state level. He told me that he really doesn’t have an agenda other than restoring power to the people and helping ensure that government only protects our rights. He said that his success should be measured by the overall sentiment of the party, especially regarding frustration levels. He wants to spend time developing systems and processes to improve how the party operates.

He told me that he is a huge fan of local control of the caucuses but when asked if the counties, instead of the state, should determine how many absentee ballots somebody could bring to caucus night, he told me that this should be coordinated at the state level. He had no specifics on what control should be given to the counties or precincts.

He is a strong believer in the caucus system and believes that delegates act as a conduit to our elected officials. This means that the elected officials should primarily listen to the delegates while the delegates listen to those who elected them. His solution to the difficulties the caucus system faces is to create relationships with people who are running, so they don’t circumvent the caucus system.

Nephi Aiono

Nephi did not respond despite multiple attempts to contact him.


Lisa Shepherd

Lisa has served the party in many positions, including secretary of the Utah County Republican Party and currently serves as the secretary for the state party. She was actually elected in a special election after the previous secretary stepped down. This is important to note as there were many reported issues during the last caucus meetings, which were before Lisa was in the role.

Lisa wants to make sure that the party provides great service to all of the counties and that information is given to the chair in SCC meetings as quickly as possible. When asked about various issues she told me that the secretary should stay out of the issues and focus on the assigned duties.

Lisa said that one of the main reasons she ran during the special election was to offer assistance by leading a caucus prep committee. This committee would ensure organized training, accurate precinct voter lists, more efficient methods of registration, all for the effort to streamline the logistical and administrative processes employed at the precinct caucuses. This would allow people running the meeting to focus more on the meeting content.

Cole Souza

Cole is currently a student at UVU and spends a lot of time with politics. He recently worked on Senator Lee’s campaign and has worked for the GOP in both North Carolina and Nevada.

When asked about state vs county control of caucus meetings he said that he thinks that the system should be uniform throughout the state, especially regarding data gathering. When asked about who decides how many absentee ballots somebody can bring to caucus night he said that this is something the state should control.

He wants to be measured by our 2018 election success and hopes to use more technology to improve the user experience in the party and improve our education regarding our various roles. He realizes that there is no silver bullet though.

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