Parkite Chadwick Fairbanks III, frustrated with Utah Republican infighting, seeks party chair post
Parkite Chadwick Fairbanks III has a warning for Utah Republicans.
Within a matter of years, he says, Utah, one of the most reliably red states in the nation, could turn purple, then eventually blue. That’s the scenario he believes will unfold if the Utah Republican Party cannot quell the infighting that has divided it in recent years. That’s why Fairbanks is running to become chair of the Utah GOP.
He is one of four candidates in the race, which will be decided Saturday during the party’s state organizing convention in Orem. The others vying to replace current chair Rob Anderson are Derek Brown, a former state representative; Phil Wright, a former vice chairman of the state party; and Sylvia Miera-Fisk, a Bountiful businesswoman who owns a film productions company.
Fairbanks said the notion Democrats could wrest control in Utah, which some may view as far-fetched, is plausible due to demographic changes in the state as the humming economy continues to attract workers from places like solidly Democratic California. Dysfunction within the Utah GOP, he said, hampers its ability to counter the shifts by recruiting strong candidates, fundraising and boosting voter participation.
“If they can’t get their act together, they’re going to be not able to win elections here going forward,” he said. “There are a lot of registered independents. Most of them vote Republican but they could easily start voting for Democrats.”
The race is not Fairbanks’ first foray into politics. In addition to being elected chair of the Utah Republican Veterans Caucus, he mounted unsuccessful bids to topple Rep. Rob Bishop in the 1st Congressional District during the last two election cycles, first as an independent, then as a Republican.
Fairbanks, a veteran of the U.S. Army, said he is seeking the party chair post because he is well suited to guide the GOP back to solid ground in advance of the 2020 elections.
“Even the average voter is pretty fed up with the party hijinks,” he said.
The split in the Utah GOP has centered on S.B. 54, a law the state Legislature passed in 2014 granting candidates the ability to get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures, bypassing the caucus-convention system. Supporters, including party moderates, say S.B. 54 remedies flaws in the system that leave most voters out of the nominee selection process. The ultra-conservative faction, meanwhile, counters that it strips parties of the power to choose their own candidates.
The U.S. Supreme Court in March ended the bitter legal battle over S.B. 54 by declining to hear the Utah GOP’s challenge to the law, but the judicial resolution has done little to silence the discord among Republicans.
Fairbanks, a business consultant who has lived in the Park City area for about a year, is no fan of S.B. 54. But the responsibility of altering it rests with state lawmakers, he said. If elected, he would assemble the party’s leaders and craft a compromise for how the party will conduct itself moving forward — leaving the debate about the law behind.
“As a state party chair, it’s the law. Candidates can go convention, signature or both,” he said. “I don’t even want to hear it brought up. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a non-issue for the party.”
Along the lines of party unification, Fairbanks said he would also aim to push the Utah GOP back to a philosophy of “big-tent Republicanism” where labels like hardliners and moderates aren’t used as pejoratives and where conservatives who back President Trump and those who don’t can understand they’re ultimately on the same side.
“We’re all just talking past each other,” said Fairbanks, who added that he supports Trump. “And it’s really 65 to 85 percent agreement on most things, but it’s that 5 percent that everybody’s really fired up about.”
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