Think twice before giving delegates control of Utah election process

Here’s a prediction: There will be an enormous backlash if the Legislature enables political party delegates to select nominees to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz, instead of allowing all party voters to make the selection in a primary election.  

Utah voters don’t like to be disenfranchised. After the big fights over the Count My Vote/SB54 reforms, voters fully understand this issue. They overwhelmingly want to select party nominees in primary elections, rather than turning their sacred right to vote over to political party delegates. (See our most recent Dan Jones poll confirming voter sentiment).

Utah has gone beyond the tipping point on this issue. We’ve turned a corner. Voters don’t want party delegates (who do not represent their views) making important decisions for them.

Gov. Gary Herbert and some in the Legislature are at odds on this issue. Herbert wants a primary election to choose party nominees. Some legislators want delegates to choose.

According to reporting by Utah Policy’s Bob Bernick, some legislators are making threats. If the governor doesn’t call a special session so they can create a process to replace Chaffetz (probably giving delegates that power), then they might sue the governor. Some are also saying they will repeal SB54, which allows candidates to get on the ballot by collecting signatures, instead of having to go through the caucus convention system.

Legislators are also threatening to pass a constitutional amendment giving themselves power to call themselves into special session and pass a variety of other measures that Herbert may not like.

I say bring it on. If legislators want to try to repeal SB54 and turn Utah politics over to party delegates, go for it. They aren’t the only ones who can make threats.

They would first face an enormous political fight, and probably a gubernatorial veto. Then they would face backlash from the public, including a who’s who of Utah business and civic leaders. If lawmakers really want to get into a big, nasty fight with the state’s top leaders, so be it.

The result of the Legislature repealing SB54 would probably be that community leaders would raise $2 million within a few weeks and mount a signature-gathering campaign putting a variety of proposals on the ballot. Among them could be:

–A proposal to fully eliminate the caucus/convention system.

–A proposal creating a Redistricting Commission comprised of retired judges who would draw legislative district boundaries. (This would be advisory because the Legislature constitutionally has the authority to redistrict. But it would be difficult for lawmakers to ignore the Redistricting Commission recommendations.)

–A proposal imposing term limits on legislators and state offices.

–A proposal imposing tough campaign finance laws, including limits on contributions.

–Stronger ethics laws.

The Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy, convened by former Gov. Jon Huntsman several years ago, includes numerous recommendations similar to those mentioned above. They could all be reviewed. 

I have absolutely no doubt that Utah’s top business leaders would rally around this effort. The money could easily be raised and a strong campaign mounted to put some or all of those proposals on the ballot. And all of them are overwhelmingly supported by voters. The messaging would be easy. Winning voter support would be easy. The news media would be supportive. The state’s largest interest groups would be supportive.

I hope none of this has to happen. But certainly the Count My Vote group, including Utah’s top business and community leaders, will not stand idly by if the Legislature tries to repeal SB54.