Salt Lake County GOP chairman resigns amid backlash over ‘bullying’ within party
Chairman Scott Miller apologizes for ‘mistake with how I handled the complaints’ from Republican women
SALT LAKE CITY — Less than 24 hours after coming under fire for brushing off complaints from women within the Salt Lake County GOP about bullying from within the party, Salt Lake County Republican Chairman Scott Miller has resigned.
“It has been my honor to serve with you over the past three years as the chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party,” Miller wrote in an email sent to the party’s executive committee members at 5:30 a.m. Sunday. “However, I made a mistake with how I handled the complaints lodged by Republican women and my recent communications. I am sorry.”
Miller tendered his resignation effective Sunday, state GOP Chairman Derek Brown confirmed.
“I support his resignation and will work closely with the county party to ensure that the upcoming convention is successful,” Brown said in a statement issued Sunday.
“Yesterday’s public revelation of David Robinson’s abhorrent behavior toward some of the most respected women in our party, and Miller’s own role in that behavior, show me we have work to do,” Brown said. “Before ever speaking with the press, these women bravely raised their concerns with county party leadership, and nothing was done. That is unacceptable.”
Brown expressed personal gratitude for the women’s “courage.”
“I have seen, firsthand, how many women face an uphill battle in the political arena, including within my own party. We have more work to do, and I am committed to doing it,” Brown said, noting that the state Republican Party will elect a new chairman on May 1 after he decided not to seek a second term to spend more time with his family.
“I am confident our delegates will elect a chair committed to continuing this work, and ensuring that no woman ever has a similar experience again,” Brown said. “I also commit, after my chairmanship has concluded, that my volunteer efforts with the Republican Party will focus on continuing to recruit, support and help elect amazing female candidates.”
Miller’s resignation comes after a media report detailed allegations from women who were candidates or worked within the party about a “toxic, bullying culture that existed over the past campaign season for the county’s Republican women.” The report cited conversations, comments and name-calling from Miller’s unofficial communications director, Dave Robinson, that the women describe as demeaning and degrading.
Miller is quoted in the article as dismissing the accusations as “internal squabbling.”
Miller sent an email Friday that preempted the article by the Salt Lake Tribune, naming 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.”
“They will not succeed,” Miller said in the email Friday. “As your Utah GOP Chairman, I will use the same winning formula we used in Salt Lake County to win all across Utah ... I will not be CANCELLED.”
He listed the “accusers” as: 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.
Robinson declined to comment to the Deseret News on Sunday.
After the women’s accusations were published — including descriptions of derogatory comments from Robinson who reportedly yelled expletives and threatened to “ruin” then-candidate Stringham (who later won her campaign) about one of her campaign videos — the backlash was swift and powerful.
And it came from top elected leaders within Miller’s own party.
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson quickly issued a statement Saturday condemning Miller and Robinson’s behavior.
“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,” Cox and Henderson 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 said.
Winder Newton told the Deseret News in an interview Sunday there are several “lessons learned” from what Miller and Robinson have left in their wake.
“For me, some of the great lessons that I’ve learned are how to recognize abusive behavior,” she said. “I don’t think I even realized how emotionally abusive and harassing their behavior has been until I read that Trib story, and then it hit me that I was also a victim this whole time.”
Winder Newton on Saturday posted on Facebook about how two female Republican candidates reached out to her “because they were being harassed and manipulated” by Robinson
“I stood up for them,” she wrote. “Complaints were sent to ... Miller. Nothing was done.”
What ensued, Winder Newton said, was several months after she was “also a target by Robinson and Miller in retaliation for standing up for these candidates. They did everything they could to ruin my reputation and credibility with false information.”
Winder Newton added: “I’m proud to stand up for these women and would do it all again, even knowing the harassment I endured for six months.”
She said the county GOP executive committee has already started “a list of things they need to change,” and that includes bylaw or policy changes “anywhere from sexual harassment to how an executive committee can remove a chair if they’ve gone rogue.”
Winder Newton also thanked Republican men like Cox and Brown — along with other Republican women — who have “shown a great example to stand up for those who are dealing with abuse.”
Stallone in a text message to the Deseret News on Sunday said “while I am relieved that Mr. Miller has chosen to resign, I am deeply saddened that he cannot undo the damage that has been done.”
Other Republicans ‘appalled’ by situation
Brown on Saturday called the allegations against Miller and Robinson “appalling” and asked the party’s executive committee to “immediately meet and address these allegations in a way that ensures this never happens again.”
After his Friday email was met with backlash, Miller sent another email Saturday to delegates taking a starkly different tone, saying he applauded “these women for coming forward” and that he has 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.”
Miller also said Robinson is no longer a volunteer for the party and called for comments on a draft of a new sexual harassment policy.
Yet Miller was still facing a flood of continuing outrage from Republican elected officials.
“Miller is a disgrace and should be removed by the EC if he does not have the courage to resign. (He doesn’t btw), tweeted Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.
After Miller sent his resignation email, Thatcher tweeted, “I stand corrected.”
I stand corrected. I’m always happy to be proven wrong with a better outcome than I predicted. pic.twitter.com/omH0Hzm9ED— Daniel W. Thatcher (@SenThatcher) March 28, 2021
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, also posted a tweet condemning Miller and Robinson.
“This kind of behavior directed towards women is unacceptable,” Snow said. “These women have demonstrated courage in speaking out. Republican leaders in Salt Lake County need to act swiftly and issue public apologies immediately — the very least we can do.”
This kind of behavior directed towards women is unacceptable. These women have demonstrated courage in speaking out. Republican leaders in Salt Lake County need act swiftly and issue public apologies immediately—the very least we can do. #OneUtah https://t.co/tMVmOZ3beU— Lowry Snow (@lowrysnow) March 28, 2021
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, also called the allegations “appalling.”
“Bullying and inappropriate behavior is never acceptable. Women are vital in the political process, discussions and leadership,” he tweeted.
The allegations reported today are appalling. Bullying and inappropriate behavior is never acceptable. Women are vital in the political process, discussions and leadership.— President J. Stuart Adams (@JStuartAdams) March 28, 2021
Read my full statement below. #utpol pic.twitter.com/wJd89dFRCq
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, also retweeted a statement from Utah’s Republican House members, condemning “bullying, harassment, sexism, and the misuse of party resources. These actions have no place within our party.”
Statement from UT female republican representatives: @KeraBirk @RepWatkins @PulsipherSusan @marshajudkins @melissautahgop @writerathome @utahhousereps #utpol pic.twitter.com/UN3H13vLis— Candice B. Pierucci (@CandicePierucci) March 27, 2021
Executive committee responds
The Salt Lake County GOP’s executive committee issued a statement Sunday noting it had scheduled a meeting with Miller before his resignation, expecting a discussion of actions ranging from a possible censure to the potential for removal from office. His resignation was received before that meeting, but the executive committee “will still meet to discuss outstanding issues and transitional matters,” the committee statement said.
“I would like to publicly apologize on behalf of the Salt Lake County Republican Party to candidates, volunteers and any others who feel they were mistreated during their interactions with our party,” the committee’s acting chairman Scott Rosenbush said in a prepared statement. “In particular to several women who have made specific complaints. This is not who we are as a county or as a party. We can and will do better.”
The executive committee also sought to explain it did take “immediate action” after the first official complaint was received. “Once the accusations were reported, the executive committee made multiple efforts to have the chair see to it that the behavior ended. Not only did the executive committee address the initial complaint, it also reached out and requested information from others who might also have concerns and asked them to submit formal written complaints.
“The executive committee took these complaints seriously and discussed them at length in a closed executive session. As a result of that meeting, the executive committee believed the situation would be remedied,” the group’s statement read.
In Sunday’s statement, the committee said it “will be vigilant in continuing to protect the dignity and rights of all people.”