Government reformers in the Utah Legislature have, over the years, taken a hard road.
Recall former Rep. Jordan Tanner, R-Provo, who ran a number of lobbyist/campaign reform bills each year, only to see them die and Tanner end up frustrated and kept-at-arms length by a number of his fellow GOP and Democratic colleagues.
Now comes Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, who may not take on the “reformer” moniker, but certainly has over several years run bills aimed at shaking up the establishment.
This year Powell has:
-- HB89, a bill that would open the party caucuses in the Legislature.
-- HB90, allows no public meetings – like a city council – on the days and times of the neighborhood party/delegate elections (the old March mass meetings).
-- HB226, a bill that Powell admits is a joke, or an irony, which says that local government policy-making entities can close a meeting any time they feel it is convenient.
It’s a slap-in-the-face type of statement on legislative party caucus meetings, which, likewise, can be closed for any reason, any time.
-- HB493, a bill that will outlaw any candidate accepting an “anonymous” donation.
-- HB509, a bill that would require that Utahns cast their Electoral College presidential votes in the manner that the Founding Fathers intended.
This bill, too, is an educational tool, an attempt to show citizens that Utah and other states in no way elect presidents as the founders intended – and so there is a real need for significant reform in our presidential election system.
-- HJR15, a rules resolution that says no bill may pass the House unless it has been in the House’s possession for 72 hours (or in the last 72 hours, passes only by two-thirds majorities).
It would greatly impact the final days’ rush where in both the House and Senate bills fly through final passage votes.
This year several of Powell’s bills have no chance of passage – although he’s not willing to concede that now.
The GOP majority (and on some of his bills, probably with Democrats, too) are not going to limit their final day actions when the Senate may well not do the same. (The House can’t pass rules that would make the Senate do something; both bodies jealously guard their own operations.)
The GOP majority is not going to open their caucuses by rule or law.
Democratic caucuses have been open for years. And Democrats often criticize the GOP for always closing their Senate caucus, and closing their House caucuses when members wish to discuss political strategy or other sensitive topics.
HB226 is a sarcastic bill - Powell doesn’t seriously want city councils and other local jurisdictions to close their meetings whenever members want – he’s just making a point about the legislative caucuses, Republican or Democratic, that can now be closed to the public and press.
“I think my presidential electors bill would be good policy,” said Powell, although he doesn’t think Utah political leaders will do that, either.
In the very important discussions now taking place about the National Popular Vote issue, opponents constantly say the NPV is either unconstitutional or not the intent of the founders.
“They say we need to go back to the Founding Fathers’ presidential election system. OK, my bill does that,” says Powell.
It would take political parties out of state laws on presidential electors. Today, the law says that the Electoral College slate adopted by the Republican or Democratic (or any other political) parties in their conventions will be the electors who cast their ballots for president.
Secondly, Powell’s bill says that – as the founders envisioned – citizens will stand for the position of elector at the general election, and whoever wins those votes will be the presidential electors for Utah. There would be no winner-take-all in Utah’s vote in the Electoral College.
“OK, we’ll just vote (on the general election ballot) on the outstanding, good citizens who, in turn, we will trust to vote for the best person for president – that’s the original founders’ idea. No political parties in the decision, no winner-take-all.
“Of course, we won’t want to do that. So I believe let’s educate” and call the bluff of those who stand against reforming the presidential election system.
Powell says he may or may not support National Popular Vote – which aligns Utah with other states whose EC votes total 270 – to promise to cast all their EC votes for the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.
“My bill is the way to return to the original intent. National Popular Vote is another way to get” to the idea that the president be elected by a majority of voters in the general election.
Unlike Tanner and other lawmakers who have been shunned after they’ve proposed significant government reforms, Powell says he has not seen any prejudice against him personally or his bills.
Some politicos raised eyebrows last fall when the House GOP majority (with the Democrats agreeing) redrew Powell’s House District 54 to move it from a Wasatch County centric district to a Park City-based seat.
The new 54 will be harder for Powell to win – it may even be a Democratic-leaning seat.
Powell says he has no problems with the redrawing. “It makes sense” because of the population shifts on the backside of Wasatch Mountains. “I don’t think” it was done to harm him in re-elections, he added.
Powell says his choice of issues reflects the ideals he entered the Legislature with in 2008.
“I think I’m the only legislator who doesn’t accept lobbyist or special interest money in my campaign from people with business before the Legislature,” Powell told UtahPolicy.
“I am willing to challenge conventional wisdom. But I don’t think (those stands and/or bills) have harmed me in any way” politically.