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Governor, other GOP leaders slam Salt Lake County Republican chairman for email criticizing women

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Scott Miller, then vice chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Salt Lake City. Now chairman of the Salt Lake County GOP, Miller is facing backlash for his criticism of women who were preparing to speak out about allegations of sexist treatment within the county party.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County GOP Chairman Scott Miller’s email to party delegates critical of women he accused of making “salacious allegations” against him and “certain volunteers” in the press drew harsh responses Saturday from Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and the head of the Utah Republican Party.

“We are deeply offended by the recent reprehensible communications to Salt Lake County delegates. Let us be clear: This type of behavior should never happen and when it does we will not tolerate it, ignore it, or explain it away. It is unacceptable,” the GOP governor and lieutenant governor said in a joint statement.

“The Republican Party needs women in our policymaking and discussions. Sincere apologies are owed to the women who have been victimized and we admire their courage and strength in coming forward. That is not an easy thing to do,” the statement from Cox and Henderson said.

Miller’s email Friday preempted a Salt Lake Tribune article, in which women who were candidates or worked within the party describe what the newspaper called “a toxic, bullying culture that existed over the past campaign season for the county’s Republican women.” The report details conversations with Miller’s communications director, David Robinson, that involved what was described as demeaning and degrading comments.

Miller is quoted in the article as saying the accusations are “internal squabbling.”

The email sent Friday by Miller named the seven women in bold type, most of whom he accused of being “sore losers who failed to win their respective races,” and who he claimed, along with “special interest backers” may be “attempting to embarrass and cancel me and our volunteers.”

Miller also suggested the concerns may have been raised to hurt his race for state party chairman and wrote, “I will not be CANCELLED.”

He listed the women as “accusers” who later appeared in the article: Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, a former gubernatorial candidate; Kim Coleman, a former state representative and former 4th Congressional District candidate; Salt Lake County Councilwoman Laurie Stringham and her adviser, Abby Evans; Erin Preston, a former candidate for county recorder; Lisa Bagley, a former legislative candidate; and Barbara Stallone, who had worked for the party.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown said the allegations against Miller and Robinson in the article “are appalling” and called on the county party’s executive committee “to immediately meet and address these allegations in a way that ensures this never happens again.”

A meeting will be held “as soon as possible to address this matter,” Salt Lake County GOP Vice Chairman Scott Rosenbush said later Saturday. Rosenbush said the executive committee was not aware of Miller’s email or the follow-up sent Saturday.

Brown said Miller’s email to delegates on Friday “read as an attempt to shield both he and Robinson from forthcoming allegations of bullying, intimidation, and harassment that they knew would soon be made public in an article that was released today.

“Ironically, his statement proceeded to bully, intimidate, and harass individual women, by name, not only substantiating their allegations, but perhaps providing a public example of what they may have experienced privately,” said Brown, who is not seeking a second term as state party chairman.

He also repudiated “in the strongest of terms, Miller’s assertion that what these women experienced is simply ‘what goes on in a normal campaign.’ It is not,” he said, a reference to a quote from Miller that appeared in the Tribune story.

Saturday, Miller sent out another email to delegates that took a very different tone than his message a day earlier, saying he applauded “these women for coming forward and I have encouraged any accusers to come forward. I take these allegations seriously. I want to be very clear, I do not and will not tolerate sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc.”

He said the subject of the allegations is no longer a volunteer for the county party, and asked for comments on a draft of a new sexual harassment policy that “provides a clear path for an investigation, protecting the accusers, and providing a fair process for both those alleging and those accused.”