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Utah Democrats overhaul leadership heading into 2020 elections

Posted at 6:28 PM, Jun 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-23 13:46:47-04

PARK CITY, Utah -- Members of the state's minority party voted for new leadership and energized activists ahead of the critical 2020 elections.

Four people were in the race for Utah Democratic Party chair, each promising to unite party members and fix problems within their ranks.  The party has faced fundraising shortfalls and complaints it has not done enough to address accusations of sexual harassment.

Jeff Merchant was elected Utah Democratic Party Chairman with 77% of the vote, defeating Daisy Thomas, who sought re-election. She argued that under her term as party chairwoman, the Utah Democratic Party made gains in recent elections.

"I have been in the trenches with you and I have the scars to prove it," she said. "We have gained the initiative and we cannot afford to lose it now."

But her opponents argued it was time for a change. Becky Moss dropped out of the race at Saturday's convention, urging her supporters to back Merchant.

"We have to work harder together to not only change the ways things happen within our party, but also for the way things happen in the state of Utah," Merchant told convention delegates.

Merchant acknowledged to FOX 13 after he was elected he had not been donating to the state party he was just elected to lead. Instead, he said, he was giving to county-level parties.

"I have not been donating to the state party because, like a lot of people, I felt like that money has not been utilized appropriately," he said. "Of course, that'll change."

Merchant promised an overhaul of the Utah Democratic Party staff, announcing executive director Alex Cragun will stay on in the interim, but a national search will take place for a possible replacement.

"Number one priority is making sure that we actually have a plan," he told reporters. "We haven't had a plan for a while, and it's time to make something happen. Not only on issues like debt problems we have, the other schisms our party has. We've been really divided, and now it's time to come together."

Delegates also elected Nadia Mahallati as vice-chair; Michael Bryant as secretary; and Sheila Srivastava as treasurer. The change in direction for the party comes at a time as Democrats in red state Utah hope to keep making gains in local races.

In a brief interview with FOX 13 at Saturday's convention, Utah's lone Democrat in congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, said he was focusing on his re-election.

"I've always said I'm going to put people above party and do what's right for the people of Utah," he said. "Sometimes I'll be siding with the Democrats, and sometimes I won't."

Also at Saturday's convention, delegates passed resolutions in support of increased protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and more awareness about climate change.