CMV Alternatives Fall Short of What Utah Needs

There are now three legislative alternatives to the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition.


The worst one, a constitutional amendment by Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, would change the state constitution to say that FOREVER no one can tell a political party in Utah how to nominate its candidates – even though Utah taxpayers cough up every two years upwards of $3 million to run party primary elections.

I really don’t know what to say about Jenkins’ HJR15, except that it is the most petty and self-serving piece of legislation I’ve seen for some time.

Jenkins has previously been a pretty reasonable fellow. But ever since he lost his bid to be Senate president he’s had some serious slips of the tongue – including ranting on young veterans – and odd ideas.

Let’s hope that HJR15 doesn’t go far. It will take two-thirds votes in the House and Senate to pass and a vote this November by citizens to be incorporated into the Utah Constitution.

To say that Utah citizens, through their legislators or citizen initiative petition, can’t say who gets on the primary ballots they pay for is just short of stupid. Or maybe not just short.

Sen. Curt Bramble’s SB54 is a clear track to killing the CMV petition.

The petition would open up all party primaries – which Utahns are paying for – to any candidate who, in his district, can get 2 percent of his registered party members’ signatures on a petition.

SB54 sets up some good – but not forward-thinking enough – conditions for parties to meet in how they conduct their caucus/convention candidate nominations. If parties meet those conditions, then they can keep their small-minded and exclusive control of their candidate nominations.

If they don’t meet those conditions, then the exact language of the Count My Vote 2 percent rule applies (with the addition by Bramble that the party primaries will be open to independent voters, as well.)

The final condition – an open primary – I think could well be challenged in court.

But in any case, if SB54 passed the parties would clearly take the caucus/convention route. For then they could continue to elect extreme delegates and force Utah officeholders further to the right or left politically.

To the right is where most GOP legislators and the party’s far-right agenda advocates want it to be – and the caucus/convention process greatly aids in that goal.

Finally, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, has HB69 that would force two candidates to each party primary if two or more candidates file for an office. Unless no one else files for your office, you can’t win nomination at convention.

This is why I think all three bills fall well short of what is needed in Utah – and what CMV would provide:

— It is simply wrong – and very, very wrong – for much-loved incumbents to be forced from office by ideologically-extreme party delegates.

And that is what can – and would – continue to happen under the Jenkins, Bramble and Powell proposals. Every one of them.

This is the example that I’ve used before and will continue to use:

— In 2004, then-Gov. Olene Walker was clearly a moderate Republican who stood up for Utah public school teachers and education in general (she was not only Utah’s first female governor, but the first governor to hold a PhD – no ideology or dummy is she.)

Now, Utah GOP delegates have a history of hating the Utah Education Association, the main teacher union. And anyone liked by the UEA is immediately suspect by the right-wing GOP delegates.

Walker – who stepped up to governor’s office from lieutenant governor when then-Gov. Mike Leavitt (a main CMV backer) resigned to take a post in the George W. Bush administration – had job approval ratings near 80 percent in early 2004.

That’s right, eight out of 10 adult Utahns liked the job Walker was doing, a Dan Jones & Associates poll showed.

A blunt-spoken woman with a great sense of humor and knowledge of Utah political history, Walker decided to file as a Republican and run for re-election in 2004.

She finished fifth in the 2004 State Republican Convention. And she was out of office.

So, we had 4,000 or so GOP delegates throwing from office a popular incumbent who was liked by 80 percent of Utahns.

The Bramble alternative would have still allowed this to happen.

The Jenkins and Powell alternatives would have still allowed this to happen.

The CMV citizen initiative would not allow this to happen.

For me, that is the simple reason to favor CMV and oppose the trio’s bills.

Under CMV, Walker, and all of the other gubernatorial candidates that year, would have gotten the 2 percent signature petitions and gone on to the primary ballot.

Walker may not have won.

Indeed, Jon Huntsman Jr. may well have won the GOP nomination – as he did in a primary that year against former Utah House Speaker Nolan Karras.

But Walker would have had Utahns – Republicans and independents who (at the polls) signed up to be members of the Utah Republican Party — voting on her.

Add together independents and registered Republicans, and you have around 80 percent of all Utah voters.

If she had been forced from office under CMV, at least it would have been hundreds of thousands of voters making the decision, not 4,000 right-wing GOP delegates.

You tell me which is more democratic (small D).

You tell me which is more healthy for any state – but especially for a state so dominated by one political party.

You tell me which is more fair.

A second point: Most Utahns don’t favor the caucus/convention system, and by far most Utahns don’t attend their neighborhood caucus – so don’t participate in the caucus/convention system.

A pre-legislative poll by Dan Jones & Associates found that 51 percent of Republicans favor CMV; only 33 percent favor the caucus/convention system.

Among political independents, 65 percent favor CMV; only 23 percent like the caucus/convention system (which is really weird, because only Democrats let independents even participate in their caucus, Republicans would kick any independent out of their caucuses).

And among Democrats, 79 percent favor CMV; and only 8 percent like their own caucus/convention system.

(This is one reason why all of a sudden leading Democrats are NOT defending the caucus/convention system – at least they can understand polls.)

Yet even though most of their own party members don’t like the caucus/convention process, and want a direct primary as CMV proposes, Republican Party officeholders fight to keep their Good Old Boy (and it is by far mostly men who go to the GOP caucuses) process.

You will probably read a post at the bottom of this story a post about how CMV will only allow rich people with powerful friends to be elected governor – because running for office will become so expensive under a direct primary system.

Well, let’s look at recent gubernatorial victors.

— 1984, Gov. Norm Bangerter, a millionaire and speaker of the Utah House. Lots of powerful friends there.

— 1992, Gov. Mike Leavitt, a millionaire, member of Utah’s Republican elite.

— 2004, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a multi-millionaire and member of what can fairly be called a Utah Kennedy-like family dynasty.

— 2010, Gov. Gary Herbert, not a millionaire, but Huntsman’s conservative lieutenant governor, who stepped up in 2009 after Huntsman resigned to take an ambassador post in the Barack Obama administration.

— 2012, Herbert again re-elected, but major grumblings from many Republicans that he wasn’t up to the job.

Looks to me like rich, influential Utahns with powerful friends have been winning the Utah governorship in recent years – if they can get passed the right-wing GOP delegates.

And meanwhile – as the moderate GOP caucus in the Utah House has basically died and all kinds of odd conservative laws have been passed – it has been harder and harder for moderates in both the Republican and Democratic parties to find their way on to the November ballot.

The CMV petition may not be perfect.

But it is a heck of a lot better than the proposals offered by Bramble, Jenkins and Powell.

Finally, the trio’s alternatives to CMV rely on one very important condition – will Utah lawmakers keep their promise implicit in each bill’s requirements?

Let’s take SB54.

While it may open up the one-night caucus delegate elections somewhat, while it may raise the candidate convention nomination threshold from 60 percent to 65 percent of the delegate vote, there are no guarantees that GOP-partisan lawmakers won’t change those reforms later on.

I say remember term limits: Just one example of Utah legislators not keeping promises on issues that affect them personally or politically.

In 1994 independent Merrill Cook got term limits on the ballot via a citizen initiative.

That year Sen. Orrin Hatch faced re-election. And while the Cook term limit initiative had an eight-year limit, Hatch had been in office since 1976 – 18 years.

GOP leaders feared that voters might just vote for term limits – and then vote Hatch out of office since he’d been in so long.

So the 1994 Legislature adopted a 12-year term limit for themselves, state officeholders and U.S. Congressmen as part of a grand compromise. (Later lawsuits around the country struck down any local laws term-limiting congressmen.)

The Cook initiative was neutered – just like this year’s trio is trying to neuter Count My Vote. And it failed at the polls.

Yet 10 years later, as the 12-year limit loomed, lawmakers just repealed the term limit law they passed so it wouldn’t apply them.

A critical promise made; and then deceitfully broken.

Count on the same thing happening with SB54, if it passes.

Within a few years the 65 percent level – which isn’t high enough anyway — would be lowered by GOP legislators currying favor with their right-wing delegates.

And except for multi-day, or absentee, balloting allowed in the GOP caucus delegate elections, all will be back to where we are now – arch-conservative delegates nominating arch-conservative legislators – public education suffering, college tuition exploding, social programs skimmed for road-building and civil equality for gays and lesbians put off for yet another, and another, legislative session.

Cynical and self-serving legislators may pass SB54, HJR15, HB69 or some other yet unseen (because of secret bill drafting rules) law aimed at killing Count My Vote.

If they do, then only in the courts may Utahns seek their constitutional right of adopting new laws unhindered by legislators’ desires to stop election law reform.

(Editor’s Note: UtahPolicy publisher LaVarr Webb is on the Count My Vote board.)