Bob Bernick’s notebook: Herbert stands alone against SB54 repeal efforts

For those in the Utah political world who care about SB54 and the current dual-route to a political party’s primary ballot process, the current showdown between GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and most Republicans in the state House and Senate tells it all.

Simply put, the days of SB54 are clearly numbered.

And the only man standing between breaking the deal the 2014 GOP-controlled Legislature made with a powerful Count My Vote citizen initiative coalition, is Herbert himself.

There have been, of course, a number of votes on the dual-route primary law (SB54) in the Legislature over the last few years. All repeal attempts – or efforts to gut the law — have failed.

But the showdown over how a special U.S. House vacancy election will be held here – the governor on the pro-SB54 side, the House and Senate Republicans on the delegate/convention side – will tell us SB54’s near future.

Herbert is, for now, standing pat.

He believes should U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz resign his 3rd District seat before next year – and indications are he will – then Herbert wants to have a perhaps truncated, but still intact, SB54 approach to the special election process.

That is:

  • GOP state party leaders will call a meeting (convention) of the 1,000 3rd District delegates, who will then vote on replacement candidates who choose to take the delegate route.

One or two candidates will be advanced to a primary (only one if he or she gets 60 percent of the delegate vote, or the two top vote-getters if no one gets 60 percent).

Forty-five days after the primary vote, a general election will be held.

  • Candidates taking the signature-gathering route must collect 8,000 signatures of registered Republicans in the 3rd District.

If they do that, they will be on the primary ballot, also.

Whether coming by signatures or delegates, the top vote-getter in the primary (closed for Republicans) will move on to the general special election.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, say their respective GOP caucuses prefer to have just the delegates pick one or two Republicans to go on a general special election ballot – doing away with the signature gathering route and skipping a primary election.

They want Herbert to call a special legislative session where such a shortened process to fill a U.S. House vacancy could be put into law.

Herbert says no – at least for now.

Thus the standoff:

  • Herbert maintaining the same SB54 process should be used in a special House election.
  • Most GOP lawmakers apparently siding with their state party leaders (who hate SB54, losing three court cases challenging it) and giving all power to party delegates.

UtahPolicy is told that Herbert has made quiet agreements with Count My Vote leaders, including former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt, that he will stand by the SB54 compromise.

Herbert has said this is his last term. So he won’t have to face disappointed Republican state delegates again.

Most House and Senate incumbents, however, likely will face their county or state delegates in their re-elections.

So you see why the GOP lawmakers are hesitant to ignore Republican Party leaders/delegates.

If an incumbent Republican lawmaker shunned party delegates completely by going only the signature route, or took both routes at the same time (petition and delegate), as SB54 allows, and should those dual-route folks not get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote, then there is the real possibility those “wayward” Republicans could see their county and/or state party apparatus actually OPPOSE them in a primary election.

Who wants that headache?

For now, Herbert is standing with the SB54 promised CMV compromise – he did, after all, sign SB54 into law back in 2014.

But it’s clear to me that SB54 is doomed.

Either Herbert will go back on his word and sign some kind of “repeal and replace” law over the next three years, or when he leaves office in 2020 the new GOP governor (little chance of a Democrat winning) will sign a repeal.

The Count My Vote folks are looking at repeating their costly (around $1 million) effort at another initiative, or the politically-moderating candidate signature route to a party’s primary election will be gone within five or six years.

And GOP-dominated Utah will be back to having the right-wing politics of county and state Republican delegates ruling once again.