Meanwhile, GOP state party chairman Thomas Wright tells UtahPolicy that any “reasonably worded” initiative on the topic, should it get on the 2014 general election ballot, would certainly pass.
That’s one reason Wright and members of his Central Committee are pushing an internal solution to the concerns critics of the caucus/convention system have – and ask those critics to wait until the State Republican Party makes rational and substantive changes to their candidate nominating process before starting their petition drive.
It may all come down to a question of timing and the citizen petition law – which says that by mid-April the original wording of any petition must be submitted to the Utah Elections Office.
Wright says that in the May 18 state GOP convention – a month after the petition filing deadline -- delegates will be asked to change either the state party constitution and/or party rules and bylaws to implement a new candidate selection process starting in 2014.
LaVarr Webb, publisher of UtahPolicy Daily, is one of the advocates of an alternative route to a Utah political party’s primary election.
He is joined by former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt and a number of other well-known (and some not-so-well-known) Republicans, Democrats and independents.
Webb told me: “We did talk to a number of legislators, and while many legislators support reforming the party nomination process, most of it is private, and they don't want to go on record.
“So we didn't detect enough support to push a bill this session.”
Webb added that state legislators and members of Congress must face party delegates in the 2014 election, “So they are understandably not likely to criticize the process they must use to get elected.”
Webb said unless the state Republican Party “does something dramatic,” the group – which doesn’t yet have an official name -- will go forward with a petition drive aimed at the 2014 ballot.
It will be a costly effort, most likely with the supporters having to raise more than $1 million to gather the needed registered voter signatures (more than 100,000 statewide) and conduct an advertising campaign to get voters to cast ballots for the imitative.
Leavitt told a pre-2013 legislative conference, in part sponsored by UtahPolicy.com, that he would prefer that the Legislature adopt an alternative route to the ballot law, and save his group the time and money required to run a citizen petition.
But no bill was ever introduced and the Legislature adjourns at midnight Thursday.
Webb said since there wasn’t the support in the 2013 Legislature for such a change, the petition appears to be the most likely route available.
But Wright says that is not the case.
“I think you will see real change” internally in the state GOP. Wright has been praised by all sides for helping to organize a record-setting turnout at the March 2012 Republican Party caucuses, which in turn led to a more moderate, or mainstream, group of county and state GOP delegates being picked last election year.
Webb specifically congratulated Wright for the good work the party did last year in getting Republicans out for caucus night – but that was also due to the fact that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch’s campaign spent around $5 million in pro-Hatch turnout efforts and LDS Church leaders cancelling all church meetings that night and asked several times that members attend the political party caucus of their choice.
One of the great outcries against the current caucus/convention system was the 2010 ousting in the state GOP convention of two-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett.
It is debatable whether Bennett could have survived a closed GOP primary against a good Republican challenger that year; but rank-and-file Republicans were upset that they never got a chance to vote for or against Bennett – he was kicked out of office by fewer than 1,000 state Republican delegates.
Said Webb: “With early voting and vote-by-mail, we make it easy for everyone to vote in primary and general elections, but we disenfranchise a large number of people by forcing them to be at a particular place at a particular time to be involved in (picking delegates who in turn vote for candidates in county and state conventions); what is sometimes the most important vote in the election.”
Wright said he believes the state party will make changes that 1) allow for some way for Republicans who can’t be at caucus night to have a say in the party picking candidates and 2) allow more rank-and-file Republicans a say in picking a candidate, perhaps via the closed primary election process.
Wright won’t say how all that will be done. But he’s set up a distinct web site – http://www.utgopgrowth.com -- where anyone, even Democrats, can make suggestions on how to solve the “problems” within the current caucus/convention system.
It’s true that most folks are concentrating on how the Utah Republican Party selects its candidates; that’s because so many elections, from county to Legislature to major statewide offices, are decided within the GOP ranks.
Republicans have held huge majorities in the Utah House and Senate since 1980; they control most county councils or commissions, and no Democrat has won the governorship since 1980 or the U.S. Senate since 1970.
For many races, whoever the GOP candidate is, he wins the general election and the office.
Jim Dabakis, state Democratic Party chairman and a new state senator, told UtahPolicy: “The caucus/convention system is not good. It is outdated; dramatically and drastically outdated.”
It hasn’t seen significant change since statehood in 1896.
“No other state has anything like it, and for good reason,” said Dabakis.
But, like Wright, Dabakis said the system shouldn’t be changed by law, whether through petition or in the Legislature.
It should be up to the political parties themselves to make the changes to how their party nominees are picked.
“We Democrats are the party of small government and grassroots participation. Government shouldn’t make these changes, the people” in the parties “should make them.”
“Democrats will have serious, even raucous, discussions” in the coming months and at the June state Democratic convention changes will be made in how Democrats pick their party nominees, said Dabakis.