It was a legislative exhale of resignation...an acceptance of the inevitable. The Utah House voted 49-20 on Wednesday to approve a compromise between Count My Vote and legislative leadership that would keep the caucus system while creating an alternative path to the primary ballot.
One got the sense that few House members favored the compromise, which grew out of negotiations between lawmakers and CMV backers over the past few weeks, but felt they had very little choice but to accept the plan - especially since “Count My Vote” announced they had already hit 100,000 signatures on their petition drive to ditch the caucus system altogether. Braggadocio from those who wanted to fight CMV to the bitter end melted into pragmatism as legislators decided to get what they could while the getting was good.
“I learned that when sides come together, you can get some of what you want and some of what you don’t want,” said House sponsor Dan McCay (R-Riverton). “But, in the end, both sides are better than what either effort would be alone.”
Legislators lined up to voice their opposition to the measure, noting that every single lawmaker on the Hill is the product of the current caucus system. Some bemoaned turning elections over to less-engaged voters or to candidates who could win elections simply through superior resources and name recognition.
Republican Brian Greene (R-Pleasant Grove) put a fine point on the worry expressed by CMV detractors - SB 54 is simply the death knell of the caucus system.
“I’m a strong supporter of the caucus system, and I cannot cast a vote that signs its death warrant,” said Greene. “If this passes, the dual track system is illusory. The caucus system will shrivel before our very eyes.”
Rep. Jon Stanard (R-St. George) echoed the concern for the future health of Utah’s caucuses and conventions.
“It will not exist within a number of years if we pass this,” he said. “If a candidate can move to the primary without going through convention, the convention will become irrelevant. We are causing the death of the convention system. If we pass this, it’s only a few years before it’s done.”
The vote to pass the bill without a single amendment showed the strength of the House GOP’s ability to hold their members together. Republican sources told Utah Policy about 10 members who had pledged to vote in favor of the bill went the other way when it became clear their votes were not needed and they took the opportunity to save some face.
Rep. McCay said once the bill passes, the onus turns to the Utah voters to get engaged and take advantage of the new system.
“This process does represent an opportunity for a state that is dominated by a single party to reach out and grab more people. I call on the parties and voters to hear that siren call. If we look at this in two, four or six years and see that participation has not increased, I will feel like this has been a failure.”
Taylor Morgan, executive director of the "Count My Vote" effort was pleased with the vote.
"We're happy that the House was able to move the compromise forward and they recognize the importance of expanding the opportunity to participate in the process to more Utahns," he said.
The bill now heads back to the Senate for consideration.