Analysis: Shifting alliances mean petition route to the primary ballot is endangered

Utah State Capitol“Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” – Sir Water Scott from his epic poem “Marmion.”

The legislative politics of the 2014 SB54 – and this past session’s SB114 – is a long and winding road, filled with potholes, curves, and at least three court cases.

When will this roller coaster ride end?

Well, House sponsor of SB54, Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, told his House colleagues in the waning hours of the 2017 Legislature that he will be riding that roller coaster “for a long time.”

Even on the internet, there is not time or space for a complete history of this issue.

So I will shorten it to this: The Republican and Democratic votes on SB114 in the final hour of the 45-day session show me:

The SB54 compromise is in real danger in the House, where only 22 of the original 38 Republicans who voted for it are still in office.

And even among those 22 remaining SB54 supporters, some have switched sides, like House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

And it will be up to the GOP-controlled Senate to keep SB54 on the books – or at least uphold the original compromises with Count My Vote that got the power-packed petition backers three years ago to drop their drive, which would likely have ended with voters in 2014 completely bypassing the political party caucus/delegate/convention process in candidate nominations.

As some Utah politicos may know, just after 11 p.m. last Thursday the House – over the objections of the bill’s sponsors – substituted the amended SB114 to allow political parties to decide whether a candidate can take both the signature gathering process and the caucus/convention (CC) process at the same time.

Substitute 6 of SB114 would allow a party – in this case the state GOP – to have “either or” routes.

And most certainly, the Utah Republican Party’s Central Committee would say a GOP candidate must decide:

Take the petition- gathering route.

 Or take the caucus/convention route.

But you couldn’t take both at the same time, a key ingredient of the SB54 compromise that is now the law.

I listened to the debate on Substitute 6 of SB114, and the brief debate on the bill itself in the House.

And what was interesting to me — the representatives NEVER brought up what the state Republican Party is headed toward: The party will officially OPPOSE any candidate who takes only the petition route or any candidate who doesn’t get 40 percent of the convention delegate vote.

If Sub6 SB114 had passed the Senate (it was agreed upon beforehand that as substituted, SB114 would die in the Senate Thursday night, and it did, without a vote), then any Republican candidate with a brain would have had to take the C/C route only.

If they got on the Republican Party primary ballot via gathering voter signatures, their own party would be opposing them. And what candidate would want that?

It would very likely be political suicide, especially in minor races like the state House and Senate, where the GOP voters wouldn’t know much about you, only that your own party said you really aren’t a Republican and that primary voters shouldn’t vote for you.

So most Republican candidates (if Sub6 SB114 had passed) would take the C/C route, not the petition route.

And the original 2014 SB54 compromise with CMV would be meaningless – the political side of that petition was to neuter the archconservative influence of GOP delegates.

While all this did not happen in the 2017 Legislature, the road ahead to me, and other observers, is fairly obvious:

SB54 is clearly endangered.

If it is not repealed directly by Republicans in a future Utah Legislature, the petition-gathering route will become ineffective – as county and the state Republican Party bosses will oppose any candidate who doesn’t’ take the C/C route, and delegates give them at least 40 percent of their votes.

How the Count My Vote backers will react to this is not clear.

But it would be a good guess that they would break from the SB54 compromise – for in practice it would not be working – and look to restarting their CMV petition.

And Utah voters would get to decide, hopefully once and for all, whether to junk the caucus/delegate/convention candidate nomination process in this state.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch for a future Bob Bernick analysis of the Democrats’ votes on SB114, and how those votes flowed back and forth during the 2017 Legislature.