Legislative Republicans moving to thwart GOP hard-liners

(Image: Shutterstock)Here’s an odd thing – because of an “unconstitutional” bylaw adopted by the Utah Republican Party last Saturday, all GOP candidates this year may have to collect voter signatures to get on the 2018 ballot.

This, of course, is exactly OPPOSITE of what a radical group of Republican Party Central Committee members wants.

That group passed the bylaw last Saturday in a special CC meeting in an attempt to go around SB54 and force congressional candidates in the 1st and 2nd Congressional District to use the caucus/convention route to get on the ballot. Any candidate in either of those races taking the signature-route to the primary will “immediately” have their party membership stripped. If that happens, it could set off a chain of events that has Republicans on the Hill fearful they could lose dozens of seats this year. 

State House Republicans met in a closed caucus Wednesday afternoon with GOP Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the state’s official election officer who oversees candidate filings, financial disclosures, and election processes.

After the meeting, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, told UtahPolicy.com that his bill attempting to fix this considerable mess might be ready as soon as Thursday.

No one now knows what that bill may say. Although, as UtahPolicy.com first reported on Tuesday, lawmakers may move to force all Republican candidates to gather signatures instead of using the caucus system to get on the ballot, unless the GOP Central Committee backs off their change.

Lawmakers adjourn March 8 at midnight, and it’s clear the majority Republicans are going to try to blunt the “illegal” SCC’s new bylaw by then.

“What the (Central Committee members did) is egregious. And the adults in the room are going to step up” and try to fix it, said McKell.

Meanwhile, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the original author of SB54 from the 2014 Legislature, told a group of reporters Wednesday that it’s likely lawmakers will find a way to make the Utah Republican Party a Registered Political Party under SB54.

That could save all Republican Party candidates this year from being forced off the ballot, or at the very least not allowed to run under the Utah Republican Party banner.

UtahPolicy.com is told GOP legislators considered legislation to keep the Utah GOP as a Qualified Political Party (QPP), despite the actions of the State Central Committee. However, they quickly concluded that if they did that, Utah Democrats or some other party would sue to force the state to disqualify the GOP as a political party, which could force their candidates to run as independent candidates or even disqualify them for the ballot. The prevailing thought was that such a suit would be successful, and disastrous for the GOP.

Another course of action under consideration was the State Elections Office would simply ignore what the GOP Central Committee did, keeping the status quo. Again, it’s highly likely that a lawsuit against the state would have adverse effects on the GOP, which was untenable.

In fact, two groups, the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah and the Utah Democratic Party have already called on the Utah elections office to take action against the Utah GOP.

If that RPP path is given to the state Republican Party by lawmakers, then ALL GOP candidates for federal and multi-county legislative offices will have to gather signatures to get on the late-June primary ballot, where in turn the winner can be advanced by registered GOP voters to the November general election. RPP status also means that the GOP conventions would be unable to send candidates to the ballot.

Some big-name GOP candidates, like Mitt Romney running for the U.S. Senate, are already collecting signatures under SB54, so they wouldn’t be disturbed much by what their own party’s CC has done.

But any number of other GOP candidates were not counting on collecting signatures this year – they just wanted to go to their county and state conventions and either win their party’s nomination there or be one of the top two delegate vote-getters and advance to the primary.

One interesting note:

As a Qualified Political Party, the state GOP (before Saturday’s bylaw change) would see its signature gathering candidates having to get 28,000 signatures for the Senate race, 7,000 signatures for a U.S. House race, 2,000 for a state Senate and 1,000 for a state House race. 

Since Saturday’s bylaw vote violates QPP requirements, the legislative fix may be to push the state Republican Party into the RPP status.

And that status has different candidate requirements:

An RPP cannot have any candidates advance through the caucus/delegate/convention route.

All RPP status candidates must take only the signature route to the party primary.

And those signature thresholds are different – far fewer than those for a QPP candidate.

For example, said Bramble, all RPP candidates must get 2 percent of their voters’ signatures – which vary, but are much smaller than QPP candidates’ requirements.

For the average state House seat, RPP may be between 150 to 200 signatures, not 1,000.

For a state Senate seat, it may be 250 up to 500 signatures, not 2,000.

Some QPP candidates have been gathering signatures since early January. It’s now March, and candidate signature packets are due to the Utah Elections Office in mid-April.

It may be that lawmakers give RPP candidates more time to collect their signatures – since many never planned on having to do that at all.

The great irony, of course, is that the radical CC members’ desire is to somehow, some way, get SB54 overturned, leaving the caucus/convention path as the only way for candidates to get on the ballot, as it was prior to the 2016 election cycle.

In fact, a prevailing theory on Capitol Hill is that the radical CC members want the state party to be sued – and that was partly the reason for their “illegal” bylaw passed Saturday.

That would get the party back into state or federal court, where they might be able to get SB54 overturned. Several Republican lawmakers UtahPolicy.com talked to said this small group of far-right zealots is hoping for another bite at the legal apple because they’ve been unsuccessful in their attempts to overturn SB54 so far.

Of course, the state party bankrupted itself over the last three years fighting SB54 in court – and has lost two federal court decisions and an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.

The party’s SB54 challenged is now awaiting a decision from the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. That could come this spring, but state attorneys believe it will come down in favor of the 2014 state law – just as all the other court decisions have.

If the legislature does pass a bill to strip the GOP of their QPP status, the next move will belong to the Utah GOP Central Committee. Any effort to back off the new bylaw is easier said than done. It would take a 2/3 vote to rescind proviso. Quick math says there’s a core of about 50 SCC members who would vote to keep the bylaw in place, meaning opponents would need to get 100 or more votes to overturn it.


Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox issued the following statement Wednesday evening:

As Utah’s chief election officer it is my duty to ensure a fair, orderly and smooth election process and to enforce laws related to elections. I am also responsible to provide clarity to candidates who are working their way through the election process.

A recent bylaw change passed by a small group of Republican State Central Committee members has once again left many Republican candidates with confusion and uncertainty. Unfortunately, this bylaw change has also begun another cycle of rumors, media reports and speculation, and some candidates even worry their name may not be placed on a ballot they’ve legally qualified for. This action puts every Republican candidate at risk, as a judge could revoke the party’s Qualified Political Party status.

In 2016 when similar concerns were raised, I released a memo outlining questions we received from candidates, and the answers to those questions based upon what was laid out in statute — virtually all of which applies presently. It can be found here: http://bit.ly/2FDdtIo.

Ultimately, I am duty-bound to ensure that all candidates who rely on the existing law are included on the ballot, and I intend to certify candidates as such. However, assuming this issue becomes subject to litigation, there is no guarantee on potential outcomes.

In light of the current circumstance, and in order to provide candidates with the certainty they need to move forward, several legislators have begun working on potential legislation to help provide clarity and ensure a fair election. While it may be difficult this late in the session to pass such legislation, my office will work with legislators as necessary.