Wright promised to conduct an impartial inquiry and it looks to me that he did.
Wright also has some good ideas – which no doubt can be improved upon by further study – about how to avoid what happened in the 2nd District convention race in the future.
But even if state GOP leaders change how a convention fight is organized and carried out, what happened in the convention still can be repeated.
That’s because the basic problem ultimately lies in the caucus convention system itself.
Let me explain.
At it’s core, what happened in the 12-hour convention – which except for the 2nd District debacle was an example of fine planning, electronic wonders and dedicated volunteership – is symptomatic of decisions made by a small group of citizens on behalf of a large group of citizens, and whether that small group can be manipulated through rumor, public speech and time constraints.
The bottom line is that by 13 votes former House Speaker Dave Clark, who I’ve known for some time, was eliminated from a June 26 GOP primary by political newcomer Chris Stewart.
While the redrawn 2nd Congressional District has no electoral history to fall back on, it is fair to say that Stewart is now the favorite in winning the seat in November.
His Democratic Party challenger, former one-term state House Rep. Jay Seegmiller, D-Sandy, doesn’t have the money or campaign history to make a real race in a new district that is even more Republican than the old 2nd District – thanks to the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature.
Seegmiller doesn’t even live in the district, although that apparently isn’t as important as it was before U.S Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, won the 3rd District without living in it several elections ago.
In the 2nd District convention race of several weeks ago, Wright concludes that Clark and several other candidates were basically slandered by fellow candidate Milt Hanks in Hanks’ first round convention speech.
Not only was that bad enough, but between the first round of 2nd District voting and the final round where Stewart eliminated Clark 61.57 percent to 38.34 percent, around 90 of the 900-or-so delegates left the hall or otherwise didn’t vote.
Clark is from the new district’s southwest end – Washington County.
Stewart is from the district’s southern Davis County portion.
As the 2nd District voting dragged on into the convention’s 12th hour (even with electronic voting after the first round of paper ballots), I think it is fair to assume that some of the 2nd District delegates from southern Utah who didn’t want to spend another night in Salt Lake County left to make the six-hour drive home.
If Clark had gotten just 13 more votes in the final round, he would have been in a primary with Stewart.
So, in political reality, 13 people decided (or failed to decide) who may well be our next 2nd District U.S. House member for years to come. (It is very difficult to beat a GOP incumbent in Utah, Chris Cannon and Bob Bennett aside.)
Considering that Clark’s name was slandered before the delegates.
Considering that the convention – well run and pushed along with Wright and his staff – lasted more than 12 hours.
Considering that Clark was denied a primary by 13 delegate votes.
I say that the hundreds of thousands of 2nd Congressional District registered voters were ill served by Utah’s caucus/convention system – a system used by both the Utah Republican and Democratic parties.
Such a system in my mind is both unfair and undemocratic.
It used to be that the Utah’s unique caucus/convention system was specifically designed to weed out “fringe” or otherwise unsupported candidates.
It used to be, if my reading of the history is correct, that the delegate vote elimination threshold was first set at 80 percent.
If a candidate was popular enough to get 80 percent of the convention vote, he was the party nominee and didn’t face a primary.
But then party leaders in both parties – with the agreement of their convention delegates – lowered that threshold first to 70 percent, then to 60 percent, where it stands today.
The idea by party leaders – savvy in the world of election politics – was that primaries were just an expensive, divisive battle, best to be avoided.
The real goal of the Utah Republican and Democratic parties is to win seats in November, not to beat each other up, break party moral and spend scarce campaign dollars in intra-party fights.
While that sounds good for internal party operations, it is a killer for regular voters in a state like Utah, where one party controls much of the elective offices – especially big offices like U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the governorship.
In hundreds of county, legislative and state races, the ultimate GOP nominee will go on to easily win in November.
Democrats and progressive-leaning independents, in reality, have no say because their general election votes are swamped by thousands of loyal Republican votes.
A start to reform this process would be for the current 4,000 state GOP delegates, and the current 2,500 state Democratic delegates, in their organizing conventions next year to raise the current 60 percent candidate nomination level to 80 percent.
As part of that action, convention rules should say that if, in any round of voting, a candidate gets 20 percent support, he or see automatically goes to a party primary.
Yes, you could end up with four Republican, or four Democratic, candidates on the primary.
But at least that would give primary voters a chance to vote on the person who – again, in heavily GOP areas (and in the much smaller heavily Democratic areas) – will become their officeholder come the general election.
Will delegates move from 60 percent to 80 percent?
I doubt it.
For that would be voting to take away their own power to decide whom their party nominees will be.
But as the Wright report on the 2nd District convention race shows, it is still relatively easy to impact (for the worse) a convention race.
It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Hanks to slander Clark before 200,000 GOP voters in a party primary.
It wouldn’t have mattered that the convention went on for 12 hours and 90 delegates left before the final round of voting. Primary voters can vote by mail, can vote early, can vote at their own convenience.
Despite the best efforts of good folks like Wright and his convention staffers, unfair and undemocratic processes – which harm Utah voters at large – will continue as long as the current caucus/convention systems stand in the Utah Republican and Democratic parties.