Thomas Wright, the chair of the Utah Republican Party since 2011, officially declared yesterday on Facebook that he will not be seeking another term as chair, ending months of speculation about Wright’s intention to fill the volunteer position.
Before becoming chair of the party, Wright headed the Salt Lake County Republican Party. During that time, he oversaw an expansion of power by Republicans in both the Utah State House and Senate in Salt Lake County as well as an expansion of the Republican vote-by-mail program – a program Wright credits with giving the Republicans control of the Salt Lake County Council.
Wright would parlay this success into his run for chair of the state party. He would again see success in expanding power further for Republicans in the house and senate as well as expanding registered Republican roles by seven percent. This, combined with the party raising a record $4 million over the past two years, helped to further solidify Republican power in Utah.
Wright leaves behind a legacy of presenting the Republican message in a more moderate tone, as the party worked to cull more extreme voices. This, combined with the efforts of Senator Orrin Hatch to elect moderate delegates, has translated to what many believe were a more moderate group of representatives on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
Wright’s push to the center did cause controversy within the party, most notably when Republican State Secretary Drew Chamberlain sued his party for awarding automatic delegate status to some elected officials. During this same time Chamberlain, along with party vice chair Lowell Nelson, also drew attention to the internal troubles of the Republican Party when Todd Weiler (now a state senator) petitioned to censure the two after they publicly called for an end to public education while on a radio program with Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis. Wright also saw some push back from some elements of the Republican Party on Twitter and Facebook (the Facebook account was eventually shut down after some particularly extreme and occasionally violent rhetoric), which worsened somewhat as his lobbying efforts among GOP lawmakers in favor of a Non-Discrimination Law became public. This internal rift between “establishment” and “outside” would often cause Wright to lead “diplomatic in discussions” at GOP gatherings about the direction of the party.
A new Chair of the Utah Republican Party will be elected by GOP state delgates at their convention in May, setting the tone of the party for the next two years.
Update: Utah Democatic Party Chair Jim Dabakis has announced that he will seek reelection.