Bob Bernick’s notebook: The GOP’s fight against SB54 will amount to nothing

Count My Vote is back.

The bipartisan group aiming to change Utah’s political party nominating process will officially file their citizen initiative petition next week with the state Elections Office.

It will be a low-key event – not like in 2013 when the bigwigs behind CMV showed up at the Capitol office with TV cameras rolling to sign the petition application.

Maybe CMV doesn’t need the publicity this time around – Utahns have been hearing a lot over the last two years about CMV and SB54 – the compromise law passed by GOP legislators and signed by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert that ended CMV’s first petition drive in early 2014.

There would be no need for a new Count My Vote petition if Republican legislators kept their 2014 promise.

But they haven’t.

Well, yes, SB54 is still the law of the land.

It’s clear, however, that it would be a matter of time before the Utah House voted to repeal or gut SB54 (they may do that in the 2018 general session).

Then the political burden would fall on Republican senators to kill that bill – or to Herbert to veto it.

A week ago, Herbert told his KUER Channel 7 press conference that he would veto such a repeal.

That, in essence, gives GOP legislators the green light to vote for repeal – as it would be a free vote to keep their archconservative delegates happy.

And Herbert wouldn’t suffer politically, for he’s not running again in 2020.

As long as 50 House members and 20 senators stick with SB54 – so there can’t be a repeal veto override – the law’s dual pathway to a party’s nomination would stand for the 2018 election cycle, and give voters then a chance to adopt the new CMV petition.

In fact, the Utah Republican Party’s rightwing fight against SB54 is one of the more stupid political moves in recent times in the Beehive State.

SB54 actually allows for a candidate (most likely a right-winger) to get on the GOP primary ballot via the caucus/delegate/convention route.

SB54 SAVED the caucus/convention system – at least as one viable alternative.

But the Republican rightwing is nothing if not ideological, to the point of being irrational, on keeping delegate power.

The party’s 180-member Central Committee went into debt to the tune of $300,000 in legal fees by filing two federal court suits – losing them and another one before the Utah Supreme Court.

Newly-elected state party chair Rob Anderson won his post by telling delegates last spring he wants to end the SB54 appeal before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. But the CC won’t even allow that – with rightwing members stalling a vote on that lawsuit issue several weeks ago.

So, the CC has backed itself into a corner.

After the new CMV petition gets on the ballot and passes (and it probably will), the party bosses will be left with one alternative: Kick out of the party any GOP candidate who doesn’t come before the delegate convention and win the vote there.

If the new CMV petition becomes law, there won’t be a delegate/convention route to the party nomination or primary.

The only way to make the primary ballot will be through collecting a set number of registered GOP voter signatures.

Still, the party could hold a “mock” convention vote, the winner being the “official” GOP candidate – who still would have to get on the ballot via signatures.

Delegates could say, however, that the “mock” convention favors this or that GOP candidate.

But will winning the “mock” delegate convention vote really mean anything to Republican primary voters?

It certainly didn’t in last month’s special 3rd U.S. House District primary.

The convention candidate, Chris Herrod – who got on the ballot via SB54’s convention option — lost to Provo Mayor John Curtis – who was eliminated in the convention but made the ballot via signatures.

In fact (because of a third GOP candidate on the ballot, Tanner Ainge) around 70 percent of Republican voters DIDN’T WANT Herrod – the “official” party candidate.

This tells you, of course, that GOP primary voters weren’t much interested in the party delegates’ choice.

Same thing happened in 2016, when Herbert finished a distant second to Jonathan Johnson in convention, only to have GOP primary voters give Herbert a landslide victory in the rank-and-file vote.

So, assuming the new CMV petition becomes law – and signature gathering is the only route to the primary ballot – GOP bosses will have to kick the non-convention candidates out of the party for violating current party bylaws, which say the only route to the nomination is through the delegates.

That, basically, will be the party’s only real response to CMV and signature gathering.

This will make the party bosses look even more out of step with their own voters than they already are.

And it won’t have any real impact, for the signature candidates’ names will still be on the primary ballot, and (unless some court orders otherwise) will be under the Republican Party banner.

The Republican Party’s fight against CMV/SB54 bankrupted the party, split the party, and amounted to nothing.

But don’t tell that to the rightwing, arch-conservative CC members and delegates.

They’ll gladly drown in their delegate conventions’ bile.

If the Utah Democratic Party wasn’t so weak, maybe the GOP bosses couldn’t afford to alienate such a large segment of the electorate.

As it is, the well-organized CMV petition supporters will raise more than $1 million to move Utah into a signature-only, or direct, primary state.

Maybe then the arch-conservative GOP hardliners will concentrate their efforts towards electing Republicans to office, and stop the stupid infighting that hampers the Utah Republican Party today.