Two items of interest this week, first, a new research report on Utah’s unique convention/primary candidate nomination process is out.
And there could be a real donnybrook over a proposed national reform of how U.S. presidents are elected to office will likely break out between GOP leaders and conservative Republican legislators.
The Utah Foundation, a non-partisan public policy research organization, published this week an important historical/analytical paper on Utah’s convention/primary system.
For anyone interested in Utah politics and state public policy, this is a must read.
The foundation found that Utah stands alone among the 50 states in that a sitting officeholder can be removed from office by being denied his/her party’s nomination in a state or county party convention.
In my long years as a political reporter in this state I had heard this before. But this is the first time I’ve seen the scholarly research that proves it.
Of course, on a personal level one may only ask former Gov. Olene Walker and former U.S Sen. Bob Bennett about their experiences.
Both were removed from office by conservative state delegates who denied them the possibility of getting their names before regular party voters in a primary election.
Who knows if Republican rank-and-file voters (Both Walker and Bennett are Republicans) would have picked either to be the GOP nominees for the general election.
But both politicians had relatively good job approval ratings in media polls at the time of their defeats.
And I remember writing a poll story for the Deseret News as Walker left office in December 2004 where more than 90 percent of Utahns approved of the job she was doing as governor. You can’t get much better than that.
Yet she was not on the ballot only a month before.
Talk about the citizens not being able to vote for the person they wanted.
And this came about because Walker, a moderate politician, couldn’t get enough support among the conservative GOP state delegates in the May 2004 state Republican convention.
As the old saying goes: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
There is a group which labels themselves “mainstream conservatives” that are considering trying to provide an alternative route to the political party primary ballots.
The group, which includes UtahPolicy owner/publisher LaVarr Webb, former Gov. Mike Leavitt, and Hinckley Institute of Politics director Kirk Jowers, among others, is thinking of running a citizen initiative petition in 2012 which would allow a party member who gathers 2 percent of the voter signatures from the last general election to put his name on the primary ballot.
That petition route is used by other convention/primary states, as found in the Utah Foundation report. The foundation, I should say, is not endorsing the group’s effort.
Still, it must be said, Utah is the only state where an incumbent – and certainly in the case of Walker, a very popular incumbent – can be removed from office by less than 3,000 state delegates. And that just does not seem right.
Political parties do have a roll in picking candidates who run under their banner. And parties should put forward, via their constitutions and platforms, ideals and goals. That’s how citizens can see what parties stand for, and which party they want to join.
But parties/delegates should not be able to deny someone a primary ballot vote.
That should be up to the rank-and-file party members – if the party holds a closed primary, as the Utah Republican Party does – or even up to the general voting public -- if the party primary is open, as the Utah Democratic Party primary is.
I don’t know if the 2 percent voter-signature is the right number. Maybe it should be higher.
But if a candidate can show via a petition route that he has a certain amount of support in the party/general populace, then he should get his shot before the primary voting public.
Otherwise, we condemn our general election ballot choices to the “party purists” – who may be to the far right and far left.
While those “purists” may well try to govern from the political middle – where most citizens are -- when they get into office -- the chances of that happening are greatly diminished under the current convention/primary system.
Second issue this week is the rise in Utah of the National Popular Vote, a new way to vote for president of the United States.
State Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, and other GOP (and even a few Democratic) legislators, believe that the NPV movement should formally be adopted here.
National and state GOP leaders vehemently disagree.
And this could become a really interesting, if not nasty, fight in the 2012 Legislature.
I won’t go into all of what NPV would do. That was covered in a UtahPolicy story run Thursday. The story is here.
How hot could this become?
Enid Greene Mickelsen, former congresswoman and current Utah GOP national committeewoman, says any legislator, especially any conservative Republican legislator, who votes for the NPV, “should be drummed out of office.”
I’m sorry, but I get this mental picture of Enid, who I’ve known for years, pounding a drum as Noel and others are run out of the House Chambers.
Anyway, Noel says he’s as conservative and Republican as the next guy. But he says he’s main concern is first philosophical – that one man’s vote for president should count as much as another man’s vote for president – and then practical.
Both GOP and Democratic presidential candidates ignore Utah, its votes and its concerns because everyone knows that no matter what, Utah will vote for the Republican nominee.
In 2012, Utah’s six Electoral College votes are not up for dispute, not in doubt.
And so no one pays any attention to us.
A number of other, mostly small, states are in the same boat. They are either in the Republican or Democratic column, and under the states’ winner take all distribution of Electoral College votes, they can be, and are, ignored.
Instead, the candidates will visit (and from a pure economic development standpoint, all of their hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent) in the relatively few “swing” states whose Electoral College votes will decide the 2012 election.
UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott tells me some politicos are saying that Ohio – and only Ohio – could be the key to who wins in 2012 .
If Democratic President Barack Obama wins Ohio, he’s got another four years. If the ultimate GOP nominee wins it, he or she is in the White House.
Now, say what you want about the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, I can’t imagine that is what they thought the Electoral College would come to.
Is NPV any better?
Enid and others say no – absolutely not.
In fact, says Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, NPV would be worse – for it would make the huge population cities on the U.S. West and East coasts be the “deciders” in future presidential races.
And since those cities usually vote Democratic, NPV could ensure Democratic presidents for years to come.
Noel and NPV supporters say no – California has elected GOP governors even when Los Angeles and San Francisco voted Democratic; New York has had a series of GOP governors, even if New York City votes Democratic.
NPV supporters say the GOP establishment (with a capitol E) is against their proposal because it would weaken the party bosses and could drive campaign money away from the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee.
I say one-man, one-vote matters. And Utahns’ votes for the American president should matter once again.
And I say party delegates shouldn’t be able to drive a popular incumbent from office; that primary voters should get that decision.
What’s wrong with returning power to individual voters?
Isn’t that what our democracy and our Constitution is all about?