So, now that the 2016 Utah legislative primaries are over, how much of a real-world impact did SB54 have in the outcomes?
Very little impact – unless, of course, it was your race and SB54’s signature gathering process allowed you to make the primary when you otherwise wouldn’t have, or forced you into a primary when otherwise you would have locked up your party’s nomination in your county or state delegate convention.
But the latter examples are few and far between.
For the most part, state House and Senate candidates who gathered the required 1,000 or 2,000 signatures, respectively, to get on the ballots didn’t need to do so.
They either won in their conventions or won in Tuesday’s primary elections.
Whatever it cost them in cash (if they paid a group to gather their signatures), or just time and effort of volunteers, SB54 didn’t make that much of a difference, an analysis by UtahPolicy shows.
Of course, you will find signature gathering candidates who say that the process helped reconnect them with their constituents – walking door-to-door to gather the voters’ autographs – and discouraged potential intra-party challengers from actually filing for office against them.
After all, a challenger may have known at the March candidate filing deadline that their party opponent had the signatures required and, thus, would meet them in the June primary – and they couldn’t win their nomination in convention.
They would have to go to a primary – with all the cost and extra effort of that extended race.
In any case, UtahPolicy finds that out of eight Senate candidates (all Republicans) who bothered to get the required 2,000; seven ultimately didn’t need them.
Only Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan, needed his 2,000 signatures in his rematch against Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, also R-South Jordan.
Cunningham would have been knocked out of the Salt Lake County GOP convention by one delegate vote if not for SB54’s route to Tuesday’s primary.
But Fillmore beat him in the primary, anyway.
On the House side it was less SB54 clear, still most of those who gathered the 1,000 required signatures ended up not needing them – either winning in convention against intra-party opponents who didn’t get the required signatures, or topping non-signature candidates in the primary election.
Out of 28 House candidates who gathered the needed 1,000 signatures, 21 ended up not needing them, UtahPolicy found.
In many cases, the signature route folks (most of them House GOP incumbents) ended up with no intraparty challenger(s) at all, and so won their parties’ nominations in convention or just by filing for election.
Those signature-gathering winning incumbents include:
— GOP Reps. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton; Ed Redd, R-Logan; Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden; Steve Handy, R-Layton; Ray Ward, R-Bountiful; Lee Perry, R-Perry; LaVar Christensen, R-Draper; Steve Eliason, R-Sandy; Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy; Keith Grover, R-Provo; Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton; Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork; and John Westwood, R-St. George.
— On the Democratic side (few Democratic candidates took the SB54 signature route anyway), Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, got her 1,000 signatures, but beat intra-party challenger Darin Mann in the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention and so didn’t need the signatures after all. She has no GOP opponent and is now ensured of re-election.
Eleven of those GOP signature-gathering Republicans ended up WITH NO Republican filing against them or no one of any party filing against them.
In their heavily-GOP districts, they basically will walk into another term in the Utah House come November.
Besides the Cunningham/Fillmore GOP Senate race in South Jordan, SB54’s signature route does provide two other odd races this year – one a strange one politically.
In House District 53, longtime lawmaker, and former House speaker, Mel Brown almost eliminated Logan Wilde in the state GOP convention (58.73 percent to 41.26 percent).
Brown gathered the 1,000 signatures required to make the primary, Wilde did not. Brown didn’t need his signatures to make the primary.
Tuesday, Brown was barely losing to Wilde by 64 votes, 49.29 percent to 50.71 percent.
So by a few votes Brown could have eliminated Wilde in the convention, and by a few votes, Brown could now lose to his GOP challenger.
The strange intra-party election this year turned up in Davis County’s House District 20, where Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, a recognized moderate in the conservative House, decided to gather signatures. She got her 1,000.
She is a supporter of SB54, voted for it.
Her GOP opponent, Glen Jenkins, (brother of retiring Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City), also decided to get 1,000 signatures.
In the Davis County GOP Convention, Edwards got more than 60 percent of the delegate vote – so she didn’t need her signatures to advance.
But Jenkins certainly needed his – otherwise, he would have been eliminated by the District 20 delegates.
In Tuesday’s election, Edward’s got 51.85 percent of the vote (2,283) to Jenkins 48.15 percent (2,120), or just 163 votes more.
Davis County had mail-in ballots, so there could be more ballots to be counted in District 20 – both candidates will have to wait for the final canvas count on July 12.
Still, Edwards, a supporter of SB54, who would have knocked out her opponent in the GOP delegate count, could end up losing because of the very reform-minded, primary-opening law she liked in the first place.