This weekend, the Utah GOP decided to effectively ban “troublemaker” Mike Ridgway from the party entirely. This comes after a long line of public intra-party fights, nasty name-calling, and legal wrangling. His detractors accuse him of “bad behavior” including “intimidation” and “threats”, but without citing much of anything in the way of specific incidences. Ridgway portrays it as a fight against a corrupt “good old boys” network that won’t follow its own rules and has no problems using threats and intimidation of its own. No matter how you feel about the parties involved, though, this whole mess stinks to high heaven.
Let’s bear in mind how this became messy in the first place. A number of years ago, Ridgway managed to get into some arguments concerning following party rules, something the leadership apparently wasn’t doing. In the process, he ended up crossing infamous bully Mark Towner, at the time a party insider who all too often ended up embarrassing those he associated with by his own bad behavior. (And Mark, don’t email me any more empty legal threats about this like you did the last time. You’re a public figure, so try using that thick skin you always claim to have, eh?) Towner was the one really leading the anti-Ridgway charge, likely as a way to curry favor with the party leadership. You may recall that Steve Turley did the same thing not too long ago.
At any rate, Towner managed to get a judge who’s friends with his wife to issue a restraining order barring Ridgway from being anywhere he or his wife happened to be, including any party functions. In addition to this, the party had Ridgway arrested for showing up to a party meeting (which I understand Towner wasn’t even at), but SLC DA Sim Gill couldn’t find any charges to press against him. The real irony here is that Towner, for all his maneuvering, ended up leaving the Republican Party and even sought to be Scott McCoy’s replacement. (If you want a good laugh, watch him trashing on vouchers despite having been deeply entrenched on the pro-voucher side.) Why is the GOP leadership so willing to continue Towner’s personal vendetta with Ridgway long after he has both left and trashed the party?
My take is that they are so invested in being anti-Ridgway that they can’t back down now or risk admitting that they goofed up big time. Mike wasn’t always as sharp-tongued and insistent as he is today, and I think we can blame the bad treatment he received at the hands of the party he was trying to fix. Hey Utah GOP? You created this mess, and you’ve picked a heck of a way to deal with it. If he’s an “uncivil jerk”, an “intimidator”, or a “harasser”, it’s because you forced his hand. You can only beat someone so much before they’ll lash out.
So other than a sense of injustice at how the party system can grind people up and spit them out, why should you care? Consider that the GOP (and to a lesser extent, the Democrats) are experiencing an insurgency of sorts as party reformers make attempts at seizing control and changing the direction of the party. All it takes is for another Towner-like bully to label you a “troublemaker” and you’re persona non grata. Could people like Connor Boyack or Claudia Wright be persecuted and demonized by their chosen party simply for demanding that the party get better? If the way the GOP treats Ridgway is any indication, I’m betting on it.