Utah GOP Dropping SB54 Appeals…For Now

Utah GOP logoUtah GOP state chairman James Evans tells UtahPolicy that his party’s Central Committee has decided not to appeal a Utah federal court decision upholding SB54, as long as the 2017 Republican-controlled Legislature settles the “plurality” issue not addressed in the new compromise candidate pathway law.

“If the Legislature does not deal with plurality,” said Evans, then the state party can appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals at a later date.

Or, added Evans, if the Legislature takes action on primary election plurality issue, but the Central Committee doesn’t like what was done, then the party may appeal, also.

The 180-or-so CC members met in a closed “executive” session last weekend to vote on the SB54 appeal.

The “plurality” issue is key to whether the Count My Vote group decides to run a citizen initiative petition again – as it started in 2014 — or agrees that the full implementation of SB54 is enough.

One idea, introduced in the Legislature previously but not passed, is that if no candidate in a three-or-more primary election gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then the nomination goes back to party delegates to decide the final nominee.

This route, of course, would be a violation of CMV’s main objective – that a candidate can choose to bypass party delegates and have primary voters decide if he or she gets the nomination and advances to the general election.

Under CMV’s original petition, and under the SB54 compromise, a candidate can gather voter signatures in a certain level, bypass the traditional delegate convention vote, and get into the primary election.

State House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, tried to get the plurality issue before lawmakers late in the 2016 45-day session.

But, sources tell UtahPolicy, both Herbert and Senate Republicans were not anxious to take up the issue so late in the session, and in an election year.

So, nothing was done on candidate primary plurality in 2016, and Utahns went through this election cycle without that kind of runoff provision in place.

But, in practice, it was not needed. In every case, primary voters did give a majority vote to the ultimate winner, and nominee.

Evans said, for now, there will be no appeal to rulings made by Utah Federal Judge David Nuffer and the Utah Supreme Court on SB54 – which was upheld by various court decisions.

Rich McKeown, president of CMV, recently said that a plurality law that threw candidates back to party delegates if no one in a race got 50 percent or more of the primary vote, in effect blows the SB54 compromise out of the water – for the most basic CMV goal is to allow a candidate to be picked by voters, not delegates – who are traditionally more conservative in the Republican Party and more liberal in the Democratic Party than primary voters.

CMV, backed by many high-profile citizens and politicians, including former GOP Govs. Mike Leavitt and Norm Bangerter, raised around $1 million for the costly citizen initiative petition.

The effort was abandoned as part of the SB54 compromise after CMV gathered more than 115,000 voter signatures.

And those CMV folks don’t relish having to go through all of that again.

But McKeown said that was a possible route again if candidates, in some cases, were forced before party delegates to win the nomination.