PROVO — Gov. Mike Leavitt wasn't even there, but he still took some heat at a Utah Republican Assembly meet-the-candidates event Saturday.

Unlike the state Republican convention last month, the mention of Leavitt's name this time didn't bring a chorus of boos and jeers. But a former member of the Utah Republican Assembly, a conservative group with several hundred members, distributed fliers titled, "Gov. Leavitt Embraces Sodomites!"

At the park's entrance, a campaign sign blared, "Gay Rodeo Queens for Gov. Leavitt," and other signs nearby made vulgar and explicit references linking the governor and homosexual groups.

Calling the signs disgusting, several members of the audience pointed them out to organizers of Saturday's event, aimed to educate voters about candidates running in the June 27 primary election. Several hundred people came for the free hot dogs, soft drinks and messages from candidates for statewide, legislative and school board seats.

Event organizers were miffed that Leavitt, who was in Park City for a fund-raiser, didn't show up Saturday evening. His primary-election opponent, Glen Davis, received a warm reception.

The anti-Leavitt fliers and signs, distributed and posted anonymously, referred to a form letter over Leavitt's signature welcoming "all of you to the first rodeo event of the UGRA." The Utah Gay Rodeo Association hosted an event this month in Salt Lake City. Last weekend, a group calling itself People for Utah anonymously passed out thousands of handbills encouraging people to vote for anyone but the two-term Republican governor. It did not mention the gay rodeo event.

Don Ruzicka, president of the Republican Assembly, said his group did not participate in distributing Saturday's anti-Leavitt literature or posting the signs.

Ruzicka and other organizers yanked the "Gay Rodeo Queens" signs out of the ground, broke them into pieces and tossed them into a garbage bin. Meanwhile, Leavitt campaign aides and Raylene Ireland, executive director of the state Department of Administrative Services, confronted a woman distributing the fliers.

The woman, who refused to give her name, told Ireland she had a right to exercise her freedom of speech.

"I asked her to please stop," said Ireland, Leavitt's stand-in at the event. "It was untrue and a disservice to this event."

Ireland and a Leavitt campaign aide said they did not blame the Davis campaign, nor did they think the fliers and signs came from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Orton. Ireland said Leavitt's staff probably didn't know what "UGRA" stood for when the welcoming letter was pushed through the system.

Ruzicka criticized the governor's staff for writing the letter to the rodeo association.

"If I were governor, I wouldn't have welcomed them to the state," Ruzicka said. "If (Leavitt) knew about it, it was a slap in the face of the people of Utah."


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