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There is now some talk in the upper levels of the Utah Republican Party that the 2014 grand compromise bill, SB54, which provides an alternative route to a political party’s primary ballot, should be “postponed” until after the 2016 elections.

I call this move the “Save Mike Lee” alternative.

Now, I’m sure that state GOP leaders would deny this.

They’d say that their lawsuit against SB54 is absolutely necessary to protect their party’s constitutional rights of free association, etc., etc.

And to even suggest they are trying to protect U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, or give him any advantage in his 2016 re-election is ridiculous, unfair and so on. . .

But if you can kill two political birds with one stone --keep the caucus/convention system intact as the only way to a party’s primary ballot and give a huge political leg up to your archconservative incumbent – well, all the better, I’d say.

GOP leaders are clearly laying the groundwork to convince their Republican legislators and governor to play ball in the 2015 Legislature – and postpone implementation of SB54 – or else.

And it’s the “or else” that is most interesting.

For if you can’t win a political fight, the next best thing is to delay, delay, delay.

Buy time.

Opponents may weary. Support for their cause may dwindle.

In this particular case, delaying SB54 until after the 2016 elections means that Lee and all other GOP incumbents that year would have only one route to the Republican primary ballot – through the old-boy caucus convention system.

You see, the real beauty of the SB54 compromise is that there would be two routes to the primary ballot – the traditional caucus convention system, which has given us legislators and other partisan elected officials who must reflect the political philosophies of their county and state party delegates, and a new path whereby candidates can collect signatures of registered voters in their district to get on the ballot, whereby the candidates need to reflect those voters at large.

Lee is an arch conservative, a right-winger whom billionaire/philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr. has called an “embarrassment” to Utah.

While Lee’s job approval ratings have been getting better recently – as UtahPolicy and other public opinion polls have shown – many Utahns, some in his own Republican Party, still have a problem with him.

Lee remains the odds-on favorite to win re-election next year (yes, it really is 2015, and the 2016 election campaigns should be forming up 12 months from now).

But his chances – and those of similar arch conservative candidates – would be greatly helped if intra-party challengers from their left (and who could get to the right of Lee, Genghis Khan?) had to face them in party conventions.

For a number of years, polls of rank-and-file party voters and of convention delegates have shown that delegates are more conservative in the Republican Party and more liberal in the Democratic Party.

Thus, candidates approved by those delegates naturally reflect the delegates’ politics.

Since Republicans run Utah, intra-Republican delegate politics is more important than the Democrats’.

Who cares if the tiny legislative minority Democrats’ views are more liberal than Utah Democrats at large? Those legislators aren’t going to decide the state budget, abortion or gay rights laws anyway.

But what GOP officeholders’ politics are like, well, that is a very different story.

Here is the hammer that will face 2015 GOP legislators in the next general session:

They can refuse to postpone SB54.

If the GOP lawsuit fails, all is well for those Republican legislators, for come their 2016 re-elections they can choose to take the petition-gathering route to their party primary, and bypass grumpy and angry party delegates.

But if they vote to postpone SB54, and the GOP lawsuit succeeds and the bill is drastically altered by the courts, even struck down. . .

Or if a judge puts SB54 on hold until the case is finally settled – beyond the 2016 election – then Republican legislators who voted against the postponement will face really unhappy party delegates, who could well decide to throw them out of office.

What do you do?

 Vote to postpone and likely face little or no backlash from 2016 voters?

Or vote against postponement and perhaps face really angry GOP delegates in 2016?

After 2016 all bets are off.

For then Count My Vote supporters – disgusted with spineless GOP legislators who broke their SB54 promises – will just go back through the initiative process and get their straight petition/primary process approved on the 2016 ballot.

But while 2016 GOP delegates may well take out their anger on Republican lawmakers that vote against postponement, it is unlikely GOP voters in 2016 will even know how their Republican incumbents voted on postponement.

Thus, the SB54 votes in the 2015 Legislature will be very telling – and no doubt very interesting to watch.