SALT LAKE CITY – Calling his candidacy tainted by a “savage and successful” attack on the industry, the Utah League of Credit Unions is counting on the state’s Republicans to turn back the gubernatorial bid of House Speaker Marty Stephens. In letters sent April 29 to delegates voting in the weekend convention of Utah’s Republican Party, the League charged that Stephens, a former vice president of Zions Bank, in his three terms as a Speaker had spearheaded legislative campaigns that purposefully “discriminated” against credit unions and caused losses in state revenue through state-to-federal conversions. The letters, co-signed by League Chairman Steve Christensen, and President/CEO Scott Simpson, make several references to the banking lobby as behind the anti-CU campaign and urge GOP delegates to reject Stephens’ bid as flawed by his anti-CU stance. Starting in 1999 and continuing in 2003, Stephens “sat in the Speaker’s chair” and presided over bills that were “unfair, restrictive and damaging” to CUs in campaigns that were orchestrated by the banking lobby “to punitively tax credit unions,” said the two-page letter, titled “Important GOP Delegate Information.” The League letter said the banker-inspired attacks on CUs came while Stephens was in a “presiding” role and were the harshest of its kind against CUs “anywhere in the country.” While the League does not seek to “impugn Mr. Stephens’ personal character” as a “good person and a hardworking public official,” the League letter said the Republican lawmaker is undeserving of an endorsement. Stephens is one of eight GOP candidates running for the gubernatorial job currently held by Olene Walker, also a Republican who also is vying for Utah’s chief executive. Under Utah election rules, two GOP candidates could emerge from the preferential balloting at the convention to be held at the Exposition Center here with a winner to be decided in a June 22 primary runoff. The winner would face Scott Matheson, the Democratic standard bearer in the November election. But Utah CUs consider the GOP race crucial to the fortunes of CUs in this heavily-Republican state. There are more than 3,500 delegates to the GOP convention of which a “broad” cross section received the League letter, said Simpson, who is a former executive director of the Utah GOP. Simpson said early last week that there has been “little” reaction to the League letter from delegates, but Utah CU executives expressed widespread support for the political activism underscored by the League Board in drafting the letter. “That’s great news to hear that the League sent out that letter,” said Kris Mecham, president of Deseret First FCU, Salt Lake City, one of the dozen state CUs that converted to a federal charter last October. But Simpson said the reaction he cares most about “is the vote on Saturday.” Late polls prior to the convention showed Stephens ranking third or fourth with Jon Huntsman Jr. a Salt Lake City businessman and former U.S. Trade representative, in the lead. All of the candidates had been invited April 14 to answer questions in person before the League’s Governmental Affairs Committee with several appearing. As expected, Stephens was a no-show. The League letter noted that “we have met with most of the candidates” with several expressing “strong support for Utah’s credit union movement.” “There is one candidate, however, whose record as an elected official is unmistakable,” read the letter citing Stephens anti-CU activity. Reviewing Utah’s recent anti-CU history, the League letter said that “if Mr. Stephens supported credit unions in the least,” the anti CU bills or “episodes” that passed in 1999 and in 2003 “would never have occurred.” The League stressed that it is “not endorsing” any of the eight candidates but is expressing its “deepest concern” over the Stephens candidacy. A spokesman for the Stephens campaign insisted the House Speaker “is a supporter of credit unions” but that the League letter to delegates “is motivated by a personal vendetta against the Speaker pursued by large credit unions” and that the CU fight is one the Utah public “is tired of and has no business in this race since the issue is before the courts.” That was an apparent reference to the pending suit against NCUA in federal district court here brought by the American Bankers Association challenging field of membership expansion by large CUs. CUNA and the League are intervenors in that suit brought last July. -

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