Former state senator and owner of the payday lending company Checkline, James Evans made party history today with a decisive 20 point victory to become the Utah Republican Party’s new Chairman – the first African American to hold the title in either major party in Utah.
Evans, a long time party player, has been a major fundraiser for the Salt Lake County Republican party, and was the group’s Chairman for four years. Evans’ Facebook campaign group touts that he raised over $500,000 for the county’s Republicans, increased attendance to central committee meetings, and worked to reduce infighting and streamline the organization.
In a 2002 Deseret News interview, Evans demonstrated his desire to buck the more formal Utah political system. “I’m not a Utah Republican. I’m a South Carolina Republican; I punch back” Evans said in the interview.
As a state senator for Salt Lake City’s west side, his most notable legislation was SB 41 – Hate Crime Amendments. The bill, which would ultimately die without receiving a committee hearing, advocated for a universal hate crimes law – if successful, the bill would have no protected classes, and a anyone could have received a hate crime enhancement if a judge felt it was appropriate.
Evans will be joined by Willie Billings as the party’s vice chair and Michelle Mumford as secretary. Billings, The former chair of the Washington County Republicans, is seen as more of an independent voice for the party, while Mumford, an attorney, is seen as a moderate. Dave Crittenden will be the party’s new treasurer and ran unopposed.
Utah Republicans also chose not to reform the caucus system for their party. 55 percent of voters felt that the current system of nominating candidates at convention was preferable to a primary system. Currently, if a candidate wishes to appear on the November ballot and not face an inter-party challenge, they need to secure the votes of 60 percent of delegates; failure to do so leads to a primary months before the general election.
The current system has seen strong opposition over the previous months, with opponents saying that it concentrates too much power into the hands of a select few delegates, and that the decisions that come out of the caucus system reflect the views of the more extreme within the party. Opponents point to the ousting of Senator Bob Bennett and Governor Olene Walker as examples of the party moving further to the right than the general public. Supports say the current system is an equalizer, allowing challengers to take on establishment candidates on a more level playing field – a field where ideas, not money or influence, decides who appears on the ballot.
Utah Democrats will decide if they wish to opt out of a similar system during their state convention on June 22.