Bob Bernick’s notebook: Flip the script

Count My Vote petition backers, some of whom are pretty smart political cookies, have just switched the field on the arch-conservative, right-wingers who oppose SB54 and the dual path candidates can take to a party’s primary ballot.

This week, CMV announced they are modifying their 2018 citizen initiative petition to include the caucus/delegate/convention route to the primary.

So, basically their petition will reflect SB54 – the 2014 compromise law between GOP legislators and CMV backers.

I won’t go into all the history here.

Suffice it to say the GOP right-wingers – still a force in the 180-member state Republican Party’s governing Central Committee – have bankrupted the party and alienated many of its traditional, rich donors with the continuing legal fight over SB54.

CMV backers – which include former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt, Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and civic and political leaders – started out their renewed petition drive saying they wanted to eliminate the caucus/delegate/convention option, only have a direct primary where candidates qualify for the ballot via voter signature gathering.

But recent polling by Dan Jones & Associates shows that approach losing favor with Utahns generally, and especially with Utah Republicans.

So, in a 2018 straight primary referendum vote, GOP right-wingers could say CMV was taking something away from voters.

And that would be true.

Now, under the new CMV dual-path language, the archconservatives can’t say that.

And instead, CMV can argue that right-wingers, through their continued anti-SB54 lawsuits, are trying to take something away from voters – the signature gathering route to the primary ballot.

In a brilliant tactical political move, CMV has switched the public debate completely.

Newly-elected state GOP chairman Rob Anderson recently told me that should the direct primary CMV petition make the 2018 ballot, state Republicans would argue against it, saying keeping SB54 (which they ironically don’t want, either) by voting down the petition at the ballot box is the smartest move for voters.

Yes, the archconservatives will still oppose the new CMV petition. And they will work against it.

But now CMV can argue they are trying to give voters more choice, not less, in picking party nominees at the ballot box.

Yet, CMV can argue, for the traditionalists the new petition language would also allow the historic caucus/delegate/convention route.

In reality – should CMV pass – most serious candidates will take either the signature route only, or take both routes at the same time – convention and signature.

That way, if they can get the relatively-low number of signatures required for their race, they are ensured of getting on the primary ballot, no matter what happens to them in the delegate convention vote.

Why take a risk with the hard line delegates?

Let them vote for their right-wing candidate(s).

Let them put one or two of the dogmatists on the primary ballot.

We’ve seen in two major races so far – the 2016 GOP governor’s race and this summer’s 3rd District congressional race – that the more moderate Republican candidate may do poorly in convention, but go on to win the primary when more moderate GOP rank-and-file voters have their say.

Look for the archconservative, right-wing party insiders to now do three things:

— Oppose CMV anyway, even though they get to keep their sacred caucus/delegate/convention path.

— Change state GOP nomination rules, so only one candidate comes out of convention – not the two under current rules if no one gets 60 percent of the delegate vote.

— Try to kick out of the party any candidate who doesn’t win in the convention, but who gets on the primary ballot via signature gathering.

The latter would be the more serious action.

But vengeful GOP archconservatives – angry over CMV – may try just that tactic: Kick signature-gathering candidates, who don’t also go to convention and come out the winner, out of the party.

That would allow the archconservative convention winner to run in the primary election as the only “true” Republican.

The party could also deny the “traitor” signature-gathering candidate party resources, like mailing lists, etc.

At its worst, you could actually see the party itself endorsing the “true” candidate in the primary and taking out ads and such against the signature-gathering candidate(s).

Of course, the GOP Central Committee and future delegate conventions could regain their minds and actually support CMV – for their sacred delegate process would remain an option.

But don’t look for political sensibilities from these folks.

Look for more bad feelings inside the Utah GOP, even though CMV just made a really smart political move that may gut the archconservative “vote no” arguments next year.