The new Utah Republican Party leaders say they want to increase the appeal of their party to young voters, as the fresh, all-under 40 executive team prepares to take the helm.

The state party elected new leadership Saturday at its organizing convention held at Utah Valley University. The state delegates heard from each member of the team as well as a keynote address from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Rob Axson was elected chairman of the party by acclamation, as was Jordan Hess as vice chairman. They both ran unopposed for their respective positions. McKay Newell won election on first ballot to become the new treasurer, while Stafford Palmieri won the secretary position after two ballots.

Axson told the Deseret News he has a list of “deliverables” he wants to accomplish during his two-year term that he hopes will leave the GOP in a position of strength. One of those is outreach to and recruitment of younger Utahns.

“Something that came up time and time again,” he said, referencing his discussions with the state delegates, “is how (the GOP) plans to reach out to younger people and educate and explain to them what it means to be a Republican.”

Shortly after the convention ended and before the interview, Axson said he was joking with the newly elected leadership team that although he may have a few gray hairs, at nearly 40 years of age, he’s actually not that old. Hess and Palmieri are also in their mid-30s, while Newell is in his late 20s.

“So we’re representative of a demographic here in Utah, where the average age is 31 years old,” Hess said.

Axson explained what he thinks Utahns of all ages want from the party. “Utahns, and young Utahns included, want a party that is meaningful, consistent and boldly conservative,” he said.

Palmieri said state delegates asked her to focus on “communicating our values” to people beyond party membership rolls. “Our values are strong and help tell the story of why Utah is such a great place to live,” she said. “We need to work on communicating them in a way that is persuasive, compelling and that invites others to join us in defending them.”

Newell, the youngest member of the leadership team, said many state GOP delegates also expressed worry that the Republican Party isn’t reaching their kids.

Utah Republican Party legislative goals

The leadership team said nearly every delegate they talked to wanted them to ensure the state legislature protects Utah’s caucus and convention system. Hess said the “fight continues to make sure that we strengthen and preserve it, because it’s what has made our state as great as it is.”

He said the legislature should address the “plurality issue” present in Utah’s current dual path election system.

Axson echoed those comments, adding that he wants the state legislature to continue passing bills aligned with the GOP platform, including those that help support families. “What policies help families make ends meet? What helps ensure a future that’s filled with liberty and opportunities for our kids?,” he said. “Those are the policies that make us Republicans, and I believe, that make the best laws.”

Hess pointed to Utah’s school choice legislation signed into law earlier this year, but said it only dealt with a “fraction” of the education budget. “As parents take advantage of this new opportunity, hopefully, we can expand those programs,” he said.

What can DeSantis learn from Utah?

The new leaders said they liked DeSantis’ speech and hope Utah can mirror his “bold policies, led with conviction for what (the GOP) believes in.”

DeSantis is expected to announce a campaign for president in the coming months, and the new party leaders said they hope his visit helped show him what “sets Utah apart.”

Palmieri said she moved to Utah because “things actually work here, and people don’t tolerate craziness from their elected officials.”

“I think Utah’s great, because it actually values competence,” she said.

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Axson and Hess said that other states should embrace Utah’s form of intense but civil debate.

“(DeSantis) can leave Utah knowing that we are happy because we’re a bunch of happy warriors,” Hess said. “Utah’s social capital and ability to connect with one another to solve problems is at the heart of federalism and limited government.”

Newell ended the conversation by saying he hopes DeSantis knows that “our communities” are Utah’s secret.

“If I forget to take out the trash, my neighbor will do it for me,” he said, “and that’s something that sadly doesn’t happen in many places in America, but its something we’ve held on to here.”

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