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Weyher admits he wanted candidate to withdraw

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Democratic State House candidate Josh Ewing claims Summit County Democratic Party chair Rob Weyher tried to pay him a bribe.

"[Weyher] offered me what amounts to a bribe to get out of the race," said Ewing, who is competing in a Democratic primary election June 27 against Salt Lake City resident Christine Johnson. "He essentially offered to make up all the personal money that I had already spent before then, which was a couple of thousand dollars."

Weyher offered to pay Ewing’s campaign expenses if Ewing withdrew from the race for the District 25 seat in the state House of Representatives.

The post currently held by Rep. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, includes portions of Salt Lake City and the Snyderville Basin.

The Salt Lake County district attorney charged Weyher this week with prohibited elections activity, a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"I already have five (misdemeanors) against me, so what’s six," Weyher said.

He says he mentioned the offer in May to Ewing’s boss, Tom Love, of Love Communications, a public relations firm in Salt Lake City.

"[Love] is the one pulling [Ewing’s] strings," Weyher said. "Christine Johnson will make a better legislator (than Ewing)."

Ewing says the offer could have resulted from Weyher’s friendship with Coalville resident Laura Bonham, a Democrat running in the race for the District 53 seat in Utah’s House of Representatives.

"[Bonham] is a strong supporter of [Johnson] & the only thing I can think is [Bonham] convinced [Weyher] to that side," Ewing said.

Johnson says she is "bewildered at [Weyher’s] level of support."

But Weyher has not contributed money to her campaign, she insisted.

"I’m perfectly qualified of winning this race on my own without twisting anybody’s arm or offering any bribery," Johnson said.

Reporters were tipped off about Weyher’s offer this week by Ewing because the candidate is behind in the polls, Weyher claimed.

"Christine’s leading them by 20 points and they’re running scared," he said, adding, "they had this in their pocket waiting to use it if they had to."

Ewing blamed Weyher for injecting the political contest with big dollars.

"I don’t think it should be about personal wealth," Ewing said. "[Weyher] essentially said, ‘hey, if you guys want to spend your money, that’s your prerogative.’ It’s going to be us against him and his money."

Weyher countered, "there is a much more powerful and politically connected individual involved in this race and that’s Tommy Love."

Ewing and Love complained to prosecutors in Salt Lake and Summit counties about Weyher’s offer.

"We simply wanted to report it to the appropriate authorities," Ewing said, adding, "it struck me as unethical."

Weyher insists he did not violate the "obscure statute" because Ewing was not offered the money directly.

"To solicit and try to get elected the very best candidates, that’s what I was trying to do," Weyher said. "I’m not going to deny that I tried to get [Ewing] out of the race so there would not be a primary."

But he called Love from Summit County, Weyher said, adding, "if a law was broken, it was broken in Summit County."

"[Love] went shopping for the right prosecutor," Weyher said.

Meanwhile, an embattled Weyher is facing charges in Third District Court at Silver Summit of assaulting a police officer, interfering with an arrest, driving under the influence of alcohol, improper lane change and speeding. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

And Weyher irked party faithful who learned recently that he contributed money to many high-profile Republicans, including President George W. Bush.

His critics cannot impeach him and he won’t resign from his post the Democratic chief, Weyher said.

"I’m not going to be the one that divides this party & I’m chair until April of 2007," he said. "In 2007, I will probably step down as chairman."

Weyher says he expects to run in 2008 against Democratic Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott for her seat on the board.


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