Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Showdown on Capitol Hill

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert – after being raked over the coals in a Utah House Republican CaucusWednesday afternoon — told a KUED Channel 7 press conference Thursday that he’s sticking to his guns, and won’t call a special legislative session, where Republicans may adopt a new law bypassing party primary voters in selecting a nominee for the 3rd U.S. House District.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, made it official Thursday afternoon (after the governor’s monthly press conference ended), saying he would resign his seat effect June 30.

Asked off camera by UtahPolicy if he worries about his own GOP lawmakers suing him before the Utah Supreme Court over the governor’s special election process, Herbert said no.

“We get lawsuits all the time” filed against his office, said Herbert. Such court actions help clarify state policy, he added, “and I’m sure it can be handled in a timely, expedited process.”

Herbert and his top aides have clearly given the special U.S. House replacement election a lot of thought. Herbert said he’s met with top lawmakers, Attorney General Sean Reyes, and members of the all-Republican congressional delegation – including Chaffetz.

 And along with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the official state election officer, they have come up with a special election plan, which could be started as early as Friday or next Monday, with Cox issuing a special election “call,” putting the process into play.

Herbert declined to go into specifics – but he did say his special election process will include a path for signature-gathering for candidates to get on a party’s primary ballot if they so choose.

That is basically SB54, which many GOP lawmakers dislike and are threatening to repeal.

Some GOP House members told UtahPolicy on Wednesday that Herbert’s “secret” plan – which of course will become public with Cox’s official special election proclamation – will allow signature-gathering candidates to be still collecting the required 8,000 GOP voter signatures AFTER a 3rd District delegate convention.

That, these GOP lawmakers claim, will breach the SB54 compromise – since that law requires signature gathering to end before state or county delegate convention votes on candidates.

And, they argue, Herbert could be blamed for breaking the already-sickly SB54 compromise – leading to its repeal in the 2018 general session.

Herbert said while he recognizes that emotions are running high on Capitol Hill over both SB54 and his legal responsibility to call a special House election, he is not taking this issue personally.

He stood by SB54, saying party insiders should realize that the law actually saves the delegate/convention proves, for those candidates who choose the traditional route can still take it.

Herbert added that Chaffetz’s resignation and the following clamor “doesn’t really affect me politically” – thus he has no conflicts of interests here – and he will simply follow current election law (as near as possible,) and that all primary voters should decide on their party’s candidates.

Talking about a truncated SB54-like process that could require a primary and a general election, Herbert said his staffers have figured out that the GOP-legislative option of just having 3rd District delegates (there’s about 1,000 of them) picking the GOP nominee will take about two months.

His option of having a signature/delegate dual process, a primary and a general election, will take about four months.

And considering the importance of picking a new U.S. House member – we have only four of them – while giving all voters a chance to express their will in a primary election, is the right way to go, said the governor.

An extra two months is not too much to ask in the picking of a new U.S. House member, who with the power of the incumbency could be in office for decades.

A new UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates found this week that by far most Utahns favor Herbert’s approach – 70-19 percent want voters to decide a party nominee, not the delegates.

Jones also found that by a 70-19 percent voters want to keep SB54.

Even among just GOP voters, by a 69-26 percent margin, they want voters to pick party nominees in a primary election, while by a 67-20 percent Republicans want to keep the SB54 compromise law.

Among only 3rd District voters, Jones finds that by a 72-22 percent margin they want to pick party nominees, not the party delegates.

And in the 3rd District, by a 70-19 percent, they want to keep SB54.

So, House Republican House and Senate members are clearly on the wrong side of public opinion when they argue party delegates should pick Chaffetz’s replacement – in both the GOP and Democratic party processes.