Caucus vs. Count My Vote Battle Heats Up on the Hill

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

Two of the State Republican Party’s management committees will meet in several weeks to take critical votes on which, if any, candidate nomination bills will get party leaders’ support this general session.

 

These will be critical votes not only for the bills, but perhaps for the long-term future of the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition.
It is not that the GOP’s Executive Committee and Central Committee – which basically run the largest political party in Utah – will have an immediate affect on the CMV petition.

CMV’s leading Republican and Democratic Utahns will go forward with their effort to get their direct primary initiative law on the November ballot.

They have to gather at least 102,000 voter signatures by April 15.

Rather, should Sen. Curt Bramble, Sen. Scott Jenkins or Rep. Kraig Powell’s candidate nomination bills get the endorsement of the Utah Republican Party, that bill will almost certainly pass the 2014 Legislature.

The GOP Executive Committee will meet Feb. 19; the Central Committee on March 1.

Lawmakers adjourn their 2014 general session at midnight March 13.

And then we may see a court showdown, if the CMV petition is adopted by voters later this year.

Tuesday morning Bramble, R-Provo, met with about 40 lawmakers to brief them on his SB54. You can read the bill here.

It would do a number of things, as Bramble explains in a video interview with UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott here.

Powell, R-Heber City, has HB69. It says that if two or more candidates file for the same office, at least two of them must go to the primary election.

Jenkins, R-Plain City, has a resolution, entitled “Political Parties and Their Candidates,” that has not yet been written, introduced by title only.

While Bramble denies that his is “blackmailing” GOP leaders, SB54 says that if all political parties in Utah do certain things, then their delegates will be allowed to vet candidates for state offices, like the Legislature, governor, attorney general, and congressional offices, like U.S. Senate and House.

If the parties don’t change their candidate nominating processes as SB54 requires, then the parties will be subject to open primaries.

The open primary part of SB54 is the same language as the CMV petition.

“The petition’s language is exactly overlaid in SB54,” Bramble told UtahPolicy Tuesday.

So, the GOP’s Executive Committee and Central Committee members will have their collective feet held to the fire if SB54 is adopted.

Republican Party bosses can accept the SB54 nomination changes, or they can lose their ability to vote on party candidates.

You can read the CMV material, including the initiative, here.

Basically, CMV, should it become law, would place Utah in the same candidate nomination system as more than 40 other states.

If a candidate could gather 2 percent of his registered party members’ signatures in his district (or statewide for governor and U.S. Senate), then he or she automatically gets on his or hers party’s primary ballot.

There could be any number of candidates in the primary, from two to 10 or 12 – whoever gets 2 percent is on the ballot.

Party delegates, picked in precinct meetings in early March of each election year, would NOT get to vet the candidates, as they do now.

Under current Republican and Democratic state party rules, any candidate who gets 60 percent of his delegate vote in convention eliminates all other contenders and is the party’s nominee.

If no candidate gets 60 percent, then the top two vote-getters advance to a primary.

In the case of Utah Republicans, that is a closed primary. You have to be a registered party member to vote in the GOP primary.

Democrats hold open primaries.

If a GOP candidate wins his nomination in convention, in many races that vote is the de facto general election. There are so many Republicans in many areas of Utah that whoever the GOP nominee is, he wins the seat. Democrats really don’t stand a chance, or there is no Democratic candidate on the November ballot.

Tuesday, GOP chairman James Evans told UtahPolicy that his main concern with the CMV remains the 2 percent requirement.

CMV supporters, which include board members Mike Leavitt, former Utah GOP governor; University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics boss Kirk Jowers; and UtahPolicy publisher LaVarr Webb, decided to have candidates gather signatures of their party members to show grass-roots party support – much like getting support from party delegates under the current system.

But because there are so many more Republicans than Democrats in Utah, a GOP candidate for office X may have to gather two or three times as many signatures to reach his 2 percent than the Democratic candidate for office X.

Evans says that is not fair, and may be unconstitutional.

Bramble has the same concern.

CMV supporters went to great length to “prove” that their initiative language is constitutional. They hired an outside, election law expert law firm to help draft the language.

And CMV supporters held two press conference where they stressed the language is constitutional.

By law, the state Elections Office attorneys, from the AG’s office, must review any initiative language and rule on whether it is constitutional. And CMV passed that test.

However, said Evans, the law says the Elections Office rules only on whether language is “patently unconstitutional.”

Evans says perhaps the Attorney General’s Office can review the CMV language further.

That, however, could be a touchy subject for newly-appointed GOP AG Sean Reyes.

Reyes was picked by the GOP Central Committee in December as their No. 1 nominee (GOP Gov. Gary Herbert appointed Reyes) to fill the slot of the scandalous former Attorney General John Swallow.

Swallow, in various investigations, was shown to be a politically driven, ethically-questioned partisan, among other things.

Does Reyes, two months in an office he vows to clean up, want to publicly step into the highly-charged CMV debate?

CMV president Rich McKeown tells UtahPolicy the group is still studying the legal and constitutional impacts should SB54, or any candidate nomination bill, pass the Legislature and CMV pass in November.

Bramble said his SB54 “is now a legislative matter, not a party matter.”

In other words, while it would be nice to get the GOP Central  Committee’s endorsement of his bill, he will proceed whether he gets it or not.

Meanwhile, McKeown told UtahPolicy that regardless of what candidate nomination bill may pass this session, his group is going forward.

Too much money has been raised, to many signatures gathered and too many volunteers have given their time for CMV to stop, said McKeown.

But beyond that, the primary reason for CMV is to give Utahns the chance to vote in a primary for their top elected officials – to take the vote out of the hands of a few party delegates.

“SB54 does not initiate a direct primary,” said McKeown.

“It creates a set of qualifications where (party leaders) can avoid implementing CMV language,” he added. And that is not acceptable – especially after public opinion surveys show that by far most Utahns support the CMV petition and want direct primaries.

“Every voter should have a vote” in a primary election; “all should have the chance to participate,” said McKeown.

For that reason, SB54 or any other bill that doesn’t create a direct primary should not be passed, he added.

Bramble says he’s a bit mystified as to why CMV won’t support his bill.

Last spring, CMV leaders were negotiating with then-GOP chairman Thomas Wright on what would be acceptable to the group to not go forward with their petition.

Ultimately, the GOP Central Committee and the GOP state convention rejected any caucus/convention nomination changes.

As the state GOP and Democratic conventions approached, a letter was written by CMV leaders – it put out some general guidelines, including that parties must move their convention candidate nomination level from 60 percent of delegate vote to 70 percent.

Bramble said he believes the agreed upon compromise was 65 percent.

But in any case, the senator says by moving to an open (not closed) primary, his SB54 goes even further toward reform than CMV was willing to go back then.

McKeown said Bramble is substantially correct in his analysis of last year’s negotiation history.

However, said McKeown, many things have changed since then – the greatest being that Utah citizens have embraced the CMV movement, hundreds of thousands have signed the petition; many more will before the April 15 deadline; and public opinion polls show great support for direct primaries.

“We are way, way past” those 2013 negotiations, said McKeown – whether they are reflected accurately in SB54 or not.

Said McKeown: “The people really want direct primaries. We’ve been energized by all who have contributed money, all who have signed, all who have volunteered. The only way is forward for us.”



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