Despite fast track on election bill, fight over SB54 may not be over

Utah State CapitolRarely has the Utah Legislature moved so quickly on solving major issues than the GOP majority is these first two weeks of the 2017 session.

The Senate will take up the Bears Ears National Monument rescission and downsizing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument resolutions Thursday. You can read about those fast-track items here.

Meanwhile, the Senate moves forward on Sen. Curt Bramble’s “final solution” on the SB54/Count My Vote battle, which has divided the Utah Republican Party and been before the courts for two years.

The rush is on to finalize that issue in the House before Saturday’s meeting of the state GOP’s Central Committee.

Wednesday, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told UtahPolicy that, for now, he supports the Bramble bill, SB114.

That bill would set up a special runoff election process should a multi-candidate party primary election not result in a clear, majority-vote winner.

GOP legislative leaders want the bill passed – and going to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk – before the Central Committee meets Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

Hughes, Herbert and other ranking Republican officeholders – who have votes on the Central Committee because of the offices they hold – will attend that meeting to speak and vote in favor of Bramble’s new compromise.

The primary plurality issue was left unsettled when Bramble put together in the 2014 Legislature SB54, which Count My Vote organizers agreed would end their citizen initiative petition drive.

But the state Republican Party was against SB54, which provides a dual approach to a candidate getting on a party’s primary ballot – he or she can gather voter petition signatures, can take the traditional caucus/convention route, or take both at the same time.

If SB114 passes the Legislature by Friday afternoon, it will be a done deal, and the GOP’s Central Committee will be asked to approve it – and end the party’s appeal to the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals.

That puts the Count My Vote/SB54 in the party’s rear view mirror, hopefully ending the state party’s difficult financial situation concerning their traditional big donors, who have not been writing checks as the right-wingers bumbled around opposing SB54.

With Hughes, Herbert et al. present, maybe more reasonable members of the Central Committee can reach a majority on Bramble’s plurality solution.

However, it may not be such an easy road.

There are several GOP lawmakers who want to repeal SB54 outright, Hughes admits.

Others may want to raise the primary winner’s threshold from the bill’s current 35 percent. That is, in a late-June primary with four or more candidates on the ballot, if one gets 35 percent of the vote he is the winner. Otherwise, the runoff provisions of SB114 kick in, and there would be a second, state-paid-for, party primary in mid-August.

There are 62 Republican House members this session, and 25 of them were elected after the 2014 Legislature adopted the SB54 compromise.

And not all of the 2014 Republicans still in office today voted for SB54 back then. Thirteen voted against SB54. Add 25 to 13 and you get 38 – a majority in the 75-member House.

In short, says Hughes, with more than 40 percent of his caucus not supporting SB54, there may well be an attempt to repeal the law when Bramble’s new bill comes to the House.

Now, it is unlikely the Senate would go along with that, and even if they did, Herbert – who signed the original SB54 – could veto any repeal.

Hughes’ point is, you may see some unhappiness with the original bill when Bramble’s new compromise comes over.

There is a second issue.

The original SB54 allows a candidate to choose the petition route, the convention route, or both at the same time.

There’s been some talk of amending Bramble’s SB114 and taking away the “both” option – and make a candidate pick either the petition route or the convention route.

That likely would break up the original Count My Vote compromise – for forcing a candidate to chose one route only would likely result in most candidates going the traditional convention route, where delegates vote on them.

That’s because some county GOP parties have already decided to OPPOSE in the primary election any Republican candidate who fails to get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote. Of course, if you took only the petition route, you wouldn’t be voted on in convention and your own party would be opposing you in a primary campaign – something few candidates would want.

And one of the goals of Count My Vote was to take candidate nominations out of the hands of the historically archconservative delegates – and thus produce GOP officeholders more in tune with moderate-like voters.

Admittedly, this is all rather confusing. Suffice it to say, by Saturday GOP legislative leaders want the two monument resolutions finished.

They want Bramble’s SB114 finished.

So next week lawmakers can turn their attentions to adopting next year’s budget and debating the 800 or so other bills now before them.