Herbert says lawmakers should change process for removing signatures from citizen initiatives

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that in the 2019 Legislature lawmakers should look at changing how those opposing a citizen initiative petition can target certain signees and get them to remove their signatures – thus killing the petition.

The governor’s comments came on his monthly KUED Channel 7 press conference.

Herbert, who supports SB54 – the dual-route by a candidate to his political party’s primary ballot – had also said he liked the Count My Vote citizen initiative this year since it mirrored SB54.

As UtahPolicy.com readers likely know, the CMV backers got around 130,000 voter signatures on their petition – where only 113,000 were needed.

However, GOP legislators, who by and large don’t like the state Constitution’s guarantee of citizens initiatives, bypassing the Legislature to let voters adopt state law, several years ago instituted the power of petition opponents to go to publicly-identified petition signees and ask them to remove their signatures.

Lawmakers also put in a requirement that petitioners had to get at least 10 percent of the voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.

It is that geographic requirement that is most difficult – since without it, in theory, a petition drive could get all of their 113,000 required signatures in a large population county – like Salt Lake County.

So, the Keep My Voice group – opposed to CMV and SB54 — were able to organize and get around 200 petition signees in two rural Senate districts to remove their names – thus dooming CMV.

Count My Vote sued, but the Utah Supreme Court refused to put the CMV petition on the ballot – leading to the current controversy over allowing signatures to be removed after a petition has qualified for the ballot.

Herbert told reporters that by and large, citizen petitions are not a good way to adopt law. But when the Legislature is not paying attention to citizens’ desires, the citizen initiative may be appropriate.

However, he said, the current initiative law is flawed – as it allows 200 people thwart the desires of more than 100,000 voters who signed the petition in the first place.

That after-signature process allows a minority to “put the kibosh” on the whole signature initiative petition process, said Herbert, who used the signature route in his 2016 re-election.

That petition signature removal process is one of “six or seven” items Herbert has already identified that he wants to talk to legislative leaders about before the 2019 Legislature starts the end of January. He declined to name others.

Herbert also confirmed that his former spokesperson/campaign manager, Marty Carpenter, is getting money from Herbert’s PAC to run an anti-Amendment C campaign over these last 10 days before the Nov. 6 election.

Carpenter, now a political consultant, said this week that he formed an organization that will advertise against Amendment C – which if passed by voters would amend the Utah Constitution to allow the Legislature to call itself into special session on a restrictive basis.

Currently, the Utah Constitution only allows the governor to call special legislative sessions outside of the annual 45-day general session.

And only the governor sets the special session agenda – lawmakers unable to take up bills that are not associated with that agenda.

Rarely, said Herbert, has any governor been at such odds with the Legislature that he/she won’t call a special session legislative leaders want.

But in recent years there have been examples.

Back in the 1990s, then-GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt refused to call a December special session to deal with a growing budget shortfall – saying the financial issues could wait for the general session.

GOP legislative leaders didn’t like that. But did nothing about it.

In the spring of 2017, Herbert refused to call a special session so legislators (Republicans) could adopt a law that would allow party delegates to pick a replacement for a vacancy in one of Utah’s U.S. House seats.

Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox instead used executive authority to set out how the replacement of GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz would be chosen. Chaffetz resigned to become a Fox TV commentator.

Herbert/Cox picked the current SB54 dual-route. And then-Provo Mayor John Curtis took the signature-gathering route to ensure him a place on the special GOP primary ballot. There Curtis beat archconservative Chris Herrod, which (if the GOP legislators had their way) would have been picked by district Republican state delegates – who eliminated Curtis in early rounds of voting in a special GOP convention.

GOP legislative leaders were angry at Herbert and passed a constitutional amendment, which is now on the ballot.

Herbert said he didn’t know how much money his PAC had given to Carpenter’s anti-Amendment C group – but that will become public when Carpenter’s group has to file a financial statement just before the Nov. 6 election.

The Sept. 30 financial report by the Governor’s Leadership Political Action Committee shows no contributions to Carpenter’s group – but such a gift could have come after that filing deadline.

One interesting donation, however, is listed.

Several weeks ago, a “mainstream” GOP group supportive of CMV and SB54 formed a new PAC that will give money to future more moderate GOP candidates who support SB54 and other good government reforms.

It’s called the Reagan Roundtable PAC, named after the late President Ronald Reagan.

Herbert’s PAC gave the Reagan group $25,000, not an insignificant contribution.

The Reagan PAC, in its Sept. 30 report, shows it has raised $45,000, including Herbert’s $25,000 donation.

Others who have given to the Reagan PAC include individuals and groups who have, in the past, given to the Utah Republican Party’s Elephant Club, a group of party big hitters who donated $1,000 a year or more to the party.

The Elephant Club has basically died away over the SB54 intra-party fight.

UtahPolicy.com has been told that when Herbert recently sent out 40 letters asking former Elephant Club members to rejoin the group, only one did.

It appears that former Elephant Club members now have a new place to place their GOP donations: The Reagan Roundtable.

The roundtable’s boss is newly-appointed Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce president Derek Miller, who formally was Herbert’s chief of staff.