Utah Democratic Party Convention 2008, Orton And McCoy

The convention excitement started early this year with an email from Senator Scott McCoy (D-SLC). (Scott is my senator and I campaigned for him.)

Dear Utah Democratic Delegates,

I write to share some information with you that you might find relevant to your decision in electing our Democratic National Committeeman at the state convention on Saturday, May 10.

Our current National Committeeman is Bill Orton. As National Committeeman, he is tasked with representing Utah at the Democratic National Committee in Washington, DC. He is an elected party official for the state Democratic Party and is expected and required by party rules to support our Democratic candidates for office locally and nationally.

In 2006, I was the incumbent Democratic state Senator representing the Salt Lake City-based Senate District 2. I ran for election, having been appointed in 2005 to serve out the remaining unfinished term of Senator Paula Julander who was forced to retire due to an illness. I was chosen by the delegates to be the Democratic candidate in the race. I had the endorsement of every other elected Democratic Party leader. Fortunately, I won my race and continue to serve in the Utah Senate.

Sadly, during that race, Bill Orton publicly endorsed and supported my Republican opponent and my Republican opponent actually touted Bill Orton’s endorsement against me in a direct mail piece to the voters of the district. Why Bill Orton did such a thing, you will have to ask him. In any event, the bottom line is this: our elected Democratic Party leaders should support our Democratic candidates in general elections against Republicans. On this basic principle, I hope we can agree.

Because Bill Orton endorsed my Republican opponent in my Senate race, I don’t think he deserves to be our Democratic National Committeeman any longer. On this, I hope you will agree too. We need a Democratic National Committeeman that will work to get Democrats elected in Utah, not more Republicans.

Incidentally, I support Joe Hatch for Democratic National Committeeman. I know he will support and represent us well.

I hope this information is useful to you as you decide for whom to vote in the race for Democratic National Committeeman.

Democratically yours,

Sen. Scott D. McCoy

I know the facts in Scott’s letter to be true.

There were stories about the letter in the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. Senator McCoy engaged the commentors in the online editions of both both dailies, ably defending his position.

Orton And JarvisThe flyer where Orton endorsed Jarvis didn’t mention Jarvis’ political party affiliation.

When I first saw the flyer I expected Orton had decided not to run for reelection as National Committeeman.

Of course, local analysts never believed McCoy would be in danger in the District 2 race. He won in the end by a comfortable margin. But politicians are by nature afraid of the people in election years — that’s healthy for Democracy — and Scott was right to be upset.

Bill Orton responded with a missive of his own.

Democratic Delegate:

Last week you received an e-mail message from Senator Scott McCoy asking you to vote against me for National Committeeman. I have attached my response letter to Senator McCoy if you are interested in reading it. I am proud of the many years of service I have provided to the people of Utah and the Democratic Party. I ask for your support and vote tomorrow at the Utah State Party Convention for National Democratic Committeeman. Thank You.Bill Orton.Senator McCoy:

In response to your complaint of my actions in endorsement of my close friend Dr. Joe Jarvis, I submit the following. I find your complaint suspect if not hypocritical in light of the fact that you were a registered Republican until immediately before you came with your supporters to a special meeting of delegates to replace Senator Julander in what Party leadership and the delegates thought was an uncontested election to replace Paula with her husband Rod. After the first ballot, most delegates left believing Rod had won, but failing to win 60% by 2 or 3 votes on the first ballot, on the second ballot with all of your supporters present, you, a Republican, were elected to replace Senator Julander. Of course you switched your party affiliation to Democrat, which I applaud. The following year, in 2007, you appeared before the Stonewall Caucus and made a statement in support of Brian Doughty, a Republican, running against a Democrat for the Salt Lake City Council (a non-partisan race). In endorsing his candidacy, you said that you knew he was a Republican but that electing more members of the LGBT community to political office was more important than partisanship. Other Democratic office holders at the caucus said that they were not going to be endorsing him. Of course Mr. Doughty switched his party from Republican to “unaffiliated” in an effort to win the election. I believe that you have every right to endorse anyone you wish, but your endorsement of a Republican calls into question your complaint of my endorsement of my friend.

I would be happy to explain to you, and anyone else who is interested in the facts, about my endorsement of Dr. Joe Jarvis.

First let me explain that Dr. Joe Jarvis is my neighbor, we attend the same church, our children play together and we have been very close friends for many years. He is the nephew of Boyer Jarvis, one of the strongest leaders the Utah Democratic Party has known. When I ran for Governor of Utah in 2000, Dr. Joe Jarvis was the first volunteer to walk in the door and he pressed my campaign to support universal healthcare for all Utahns via a single payer system – a plan so liberal that even the Utah Democratic Party had not endorsed it.

We never even discussed party affiliation, but through our discussion of healthcare and other political issues, Joe’s positions on multiple issues gave me the impression that he was certainly a liberal Democrat. He donated money and hundreds of hours for my campaign. Shortly after the 2000 election, Dr. Jarvis asked me if I would be willing to serve as a volunteer Board Member on a non-profit foundation which became the Utah Health Policy Project, which has been working for years and is now a major player in healthcare reform in Utah – continuing to push for a single payer system to provide healthcare for all Utahns.

It was one night after one of our healthcare board meetings that Dr. Jarvis expressed frustration at the many years of working from the outside and failing to make any progress on healthcare reform. He then said that he had been thinking of running for political office to see if he could work from the inside on healthcare reform and asked if he did run if I would help him and endorse him. After all of the help he had given me, the hundreds of hours he had volunteered on my gubernatorial campaign in 2000, our years of friendship, how could I say NO? Why would I say NO? We were both working for universal healthcare for all Utahns. He did not even know what office he might be considering. Several months went by and after another board meeting Dr. Jarvis told me that he had decided that he was going to run for the Utah Senate against Scott McCoy. I told him that it would be an uphill battle to knock off a sitting Senator in a convention battle or a primary, and I urged him to find another race, an open seat or a Republican to challenge.

It was then that he told me that he was going to run as a Republican against Senator McCoy. He had to pick me up off of the floor. I asked him how he could possibly be a Republican with his stand on political issues. I told him that he was not a Republican. I argued with him for days. My wife and I went to dinner with he and his wife and we argued with them. In the end, it was his belief that if he were elected as a Republican, within the majority, he would have a greater chance to get healthcare reform legislation enacted. I told him that he was dreaming, that even if he won, once the GOP in the legislature figured out his stand on issues they would isolate him just like they do all of the Democrats and the few moderate Republicans. All of my arguing was to no avail; he was determined to run for the seat as a Republican. I told him that he would not win the seat because it is one of only 2 or 3 really safe Democratic seats in the Utah Senate. It did not matter, he was determined. So, he had my endorsement, for what it was worth, and my advice. But I told him that I could not go out and actively campaign for him, and I did not. Senator McCoy won with the same percentage of the vote as Senator Julander, so my “endorsement” resulted in no loss of votes for Senator McCoy. Had I refused to endorse him, I could have lost a dear friend. In the end, political endorsements mean little or nothing. Look at Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy and the whole Kennedy clan plus the Governor endorsed Senator Obama and Senator Clinton won the state primary in a landslide. One final thing for your consideration, in the Utah Democratic Party, we consider the work that you have d one and are doing FOR our party. In the 2000 election there was a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District who ran against our Democratic Congressman on the Green Party ticket. Today he serves the party as a loyal staff member and over the past 4 years has helped to build this Party in ways never before imagined. We don’t look to the past; we look to success in the future. I am proud of my decades of service to the people of Utah and the Democratic Party. I hope that this has answered your questions. If not, please ask.

Bill Orton

Bill Orton wasn’t at the 2005 caucus where Scott McCoy was nominated to the Utah Senate and much of his description is inaccurate. Orton also makes minor mistakes in his history of Craig Axford’s involvement in the last paragraph, though the general impression of our innovative local DNC organizer is correct.

I feel like Orton also downplays his own history too much. As a Democratic congressman for six years representing a district several points more Republican than Jim Matheson’s, his record was arguably more liberal than Matheson’s. Today Matheson holds the single most Republican district represented by a Democrat in the nation; no Democrat has held a district as Republican-leaning as Orton’s was since he left. Orton also ran against the most popular governor in the nation in 2000 and came close enough to give Leavitt a scare.

He still shouldn’t have endorsed a Republican, though.

Popular and rock solid liberal Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch defeated Bill Orton to become Utah’s Democratic National Committeeman Saturday May 10th at the Democratic State Convention.

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