Romney blow-out proves it’s time to junk the convention system

In a news story that is news to absolutely no one, Mitt Romney has won an election in Utah.

The beloved savior of the 2002 Winter Games, two-time Presidential candidate, and Utah’s favorite son has canceled his retirement to keep our state’s presence in the U.S. Senate alive after Orrin Hatch retires in January. And with his decisive victory on Tuesday clashing with his “loss” at the state Republican convention in April, it seems time to indeed – finally – end Utah’s outdated caucus system.

I’ve defended the caucus system in the past, but after having served as a delegate this year and seen the results first-hand, I now cheer its demise.

Republicans may denounce the elitism of the modern left, but the current caucus system might be the most elitist political institution left standing in America. Our antiquated notion that only a Select Few should be in charge reminds one of the historical election of Senators by state legislatures … which America got rid of more than 100 years ago.

The idea of empowering a small, dedicated group to make decisions like this probably made sense in the past, but it doesn’t anymore. Making an informed political decision doesn’t require expertise or special access; it just requires the little magic box we all carry in our pocket.

One caucus system does minimize the big-money advantage that establishment candidates usually have, which is a more populist idea, true. Our system lets anyone have a voice!

But not everyone who wants a voice deserves one.

Too many people abuse the caucus system to stroke their own ego – either as candidates running pointless campaigns or as delegates bogging down the system with parliamentary nonsense. The news coming out of the Republican convention in April was embarrassing. What should have been a victory lap for the state GOP – given the incessant flow of good news about Utah – instead became a three-ring circus.

Cantankerous elements within the party said, “Hey! We could brag about how great Utah is, but instead let’s give Democrats and The Salt Lake Tribune material to make fun of us!”

Despite Utah’s tremendous social capital with things like charitable donations and volunteer work, it lags the national average for voter participation. Excluding ordinary folks is bad for the health of our democracy. And not just in the feel-good “we should all vote!” way.

The caucus system warps the political necessities of those who must go through it. Instead of asking, “What’s best for the state, the country, and the party?”, candidates are pigeon-holed into asking, “What will keep the impossible-to-please delegates happy?” Those candidates who spend their energy placating delegates are ignoring the rest of us.

With Romney’s ascension to the Senate, the negative political impact is particularly on display this year.

Instead of fundraising and campaigning for at-risk Republicans in House districts across the country, Romney had to waste time crawling to impress delegates. While I have gone on record that there is not going to be any “blue tidal wave,” Romney could help sandbag against a blue trickle for candidates in more danger than he is. (Which is every candidate.)

Helping at-risk Republicans elsewhere doesn’t just help them, but Romney’s own political position as well. While Romney has connections like no other freshman senator in history – having campaigned for half the Republicans in Congress – why not collect a few more chits along the way? His relationships will be an incalculable asset to a state about to lose the most powerful senator in Washington.

Instead of helping the party, his own political future, and (depending on your perspective) the country, Romney has had to waste time in Utah.

“The caucus system is a time-honored institution that has guided Utah politics for generations,” as state GOP chair Rob Anderson says in a recent email blast, then asks party members for input on “the best ways to improve the caucus system.” The best solution for improving it is also the easiest one.

Junk it. I’ll even throw some herbal tea in the Great Salt Lake if I have to.