Monday, April 28, 2008

Utah State Senate Leaders Endorse West Jordan Senator Chris Buttars; Opponents Gary Armstrong And Trevor Darby Cry Foul

The Salt Lake Tribune reports on April 28th, 2008 that Utah's District 10 Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) is getting some help from Republican leadership figures in the Utah State Senate. The Buttars' campaign is passing out to delegates an endorsement letter signed by Senate President John Valentine (District 14 R-Orem) and other members of Senate leadership: District 16 Senator Curt Bramble (R-Provo), District 21 Senator Sheldon Killpack (R-Syracuse), and even Senator Dan Eastman, although Eastman is retiring from the Senate. Also reported on April 29th by KSL Channel 5.

"We support his bid for re-election and hope you will, too," says the letter. "Senator Buttars is an unwavering supporter of Republican principles. He has consistently and passionately espoused the principles that we hold dear."

And two of Buttars' Republican opponents, Gary Armstrong and Trevor Darby, who face off against the incumbent senator at the Salt Lake County Republican Convention on Saturday May 3rd, think the letter goes too far. "The problem is that it reinforces the good ol' boy network that exists within the Senate," said Gary Armstrong, considered Buttars' strongest challenger. "With an intraparty race like this, I think that the leadership of the Senate needs to let the home district voters decide who they want to represent them". On the other hand, the Senate leadership letter dampens one of Armstrong's strongest arguments for change - that Buttars has lost so much influence that he might have a hard time getting bills for District 10 passed.

Trevor Darby, who has emerged as the next strongest Republican challenger, isn't quite as put out, but is at least disappointed. He said it will be up to the delegates to decide if it was proper for the Senate leaders to weigh in. "It is disappointing because my feeling is that within the party we should let the strongest candidate come out based on their strength of their platform and the whole party should get behind whoever it is," Darby said. Darby has been positioning himself as a "kinder and gentler" Chris Buttars, to appeal to those who like Buttars' hard-line social conservatism but don't want the baggage to go with it.

The other Republican candidate in the race, Kathy Hilton, who's finally got a campaign website, did not react to this story. The fifth Republican, Wendy Smith-DeRusha, has withdrawn from the race, according to the Division of Elections website.

In response, Senate President Valentine said that traditionally Senate leaders have stayed neutral on in-party challenges, but they felt that Buttars' situation was unique. "We felt it was important with Senator Buttars that the delegates make a decision based on the merits and not make it on what we felt were rumors and innuendo," Valentine said. "He used a bad metaphor, but it was not intended to be a racial slur and we felt like the delegates ought to make the decision on the merits of the race and not on the sideshow".

In a related Salt Lake Tribune story, Scott Sabey, an official with the Utah Bar Association, told the Judicial Council that Chris Buttars has kept his seat on the Senate committee reviewing judicial nominees after being removed as chairman because of Senate President John Valentine's interest in keeping his leadership spot. Valentine allegedly feared that if he removed Buttars from the committee altogether, he could lose a leadership election to Senator Mike Waddoups (R-Taylorsville). The issue was an inappropriate letter Buttars wrote to a judge in Mapleton for ruling against one of Buttars' political allies.

However, Valentine said that he left Buttars on the confirmation committee because he spoke with the committee's new chairman, Sen. Greg Bell (R-Fruit Heights), and Sen. Lyle Hillyard (R-Logan), a committee member, and they agreed he should stay on.

Analysis: The Senate letter unquestionably boosts Buttars chances, but not enough to give him the 60 percent needed on May 3rd to avoid a primary fight on June 24th. Gary Armstrong's primary issue has been dampened. So again, here's my call; the two survivors will be Gary Armstrong and Chris Buttars for a June primary, as some disaffected people will swing back to Buttars. Trevor Darby will finish respectably, and Kathy Hilton is now on the radar screen. But Armstrong got that early jump and continues to campaign assertively. He also has good qualifications and an electable platform.

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