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New Summit County GOP chair calls the area a ‘sleeping giant’ for the party

Several attendees of convention say they feel newly compelled to get involved

Michael Smith on Tuesday speaks to a crowd at the Red Barn in Oakley during the Summit County Republican Party convention. Smith was elected chair of the party.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The Summit County Republican Party on Tuesday gathered at the Red Barn in Oakley for its organizing convention, electing new party leadership in the process.

About 60 people were in attendance, and about a third of them were delegates with voting privileges. Many attendees said they were new to local politics but felt compelled to get involved after the election of President Biden.

“This past year was difficult but I think at the end of the day we did a good job,” said Jennifer McDonald, outgoing party chair. “We have a really great turnout tonight, so I’ll give credit to 2020 for lighting a fire under everybody.”



The delegation selected Michael Smith, who lives in Park City, to succeed McDonald as chair. Smith said he has long been involved with politics but decided to run for chair because he wants to foster stronger connections in Summit County across party lines.

“Listening to the Democrats on the national and state level, Republicans are called every name in the book,” Smith said. “And those characterizations just are not so. It is important for us to relate to people on the local level so that we are known as friends, neighbors and fellow business owners because it is much harder to believe rumors when you know someone personally. I want to help facilitate change and success through engagement.”



Karen Ballash, who was elected vice chair of the Summit County Republican Party, speaks to attendees of the county convention at the Red Barn in Oakley on Tuesday evening.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Smith said his decades of experience in planning and project management will help him as he works toward that goal. He said the Summit County GOP is a “sleeping giant,” and praised the outgoing leadership for the work they did while operating under COVID-19 limitations.

“(They’ve) positioned the party to emerge from a year of hibernation even stronger,” he said. “The conventional wisdom is that Park City and its ever-expanding sphere of influence is exclusively Democrat and the eastern part of the county is subservient to that growing power, but conventional wisdom is often proven wrong.”

Smith said his priorities are to financially strengthen the party, to expand membership through outreach, to unify and coordinate with other Republican citizen groups within the county and to “help select and convince strong, principled candidates to run for county and state offices.”

Others elected to leadership positions in the county party were: Stephanie Conley, of Peoa, who will serve as secretary; Karen Spencer, a 30-year Summit County resident and the party’s current treasurer, was reelected to the position; and Karen Ballash, of Park City, who will serve as vice chair. Conley got emotional as she explained to the audience why she was interested in serving.

“I love this country,” Conley said. “I’m so mad about what happened on Nov. 3 and Jan. 6 that I have got to get involved … because I don’t want this to happen again. It can’t. It’s just stupid. (I want to) be involved and not let anything take this country down because it is great.”

Stephanie Conley speaks during the Summit County Republican convention Tuesday after being nominated for secretary. Conley was elected to the position.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

JC DeYoung, who ran unsuccessfully to succeed Rob Bishop as representative of the 1st Congressional District in 2020, was elected to represent Park City as one of five regional chairs for the county party. During her congressional campaign she described herself as a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, and at Tuesday’s convention said she wanted to contribute to “making Summit County red again.” She said she would like to see the Summit County GOP work harder to support Republicans of color and young people and encourage them to speak up.

“A lot of Blacks and Hispanics and young people are conservative, but they’re not allowed to say anything because they’re afraid the newspaper will write about them,” she said.

The regional chairs for the upcoming year are: DeYoung, Park City; Len Starbeck, Park City; Dawn Langston, North Summit; and Jerry Heck, South Summit.

Sue Pollard holds out a ballot box for Randy Favero to cast his vote during the Summit County Republican Party convention at the Red Barn in Oakley on Tuesday evening.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The delegates also chose a representative for the county at the Utah GOP’s State Central Committee, the governing body for the state party. Smith and Ballash, as chair and vice chair, automatically get seats on the committee, leaving one at-large member. The delegates chose Robert Larson, who said he wanted to get involved because there are “so many things occurring today that have to be stopped.”

“I think we have a great opportunity, because the Democrats have overplayed their hand,” he said. “They are in complete disarray with the positions they have taken on the border, on gay rights and all sorts of other things.”


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