A Microcosm of the Good, Bad and Ugly of Utah’s Current Election System

If you want to see the strengths and weaknesses of the current caucus/delegate/convention system in Utah, listen to the recent debate among the three Republican candidates for House District 57.

 

That’s where incumbent freshman Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, faces former Rep. Holly Richardson and city/county planning commission member John Stevens.

Richardson, who has written a political blog Holly on the Hill for several years, has posted the March 22 debate in five parts on YouTube. Search for Holly Richardson and Brian Greene on that site and the recordings will pop up.

The several dozen GOP county delegates – who will vote on the trio in the Utah County Republican Convention on April 12 – attended the debate.

And as Greene told them, “I know you. I’ve probably been in all of your homes.”

That is the strength of the caucus/convention candidate nominating system – the delegates get to know the candidates personally.

But the great flaw in the system was also present at the debate: Thousands of other House District 57 voters WERE NOT at the debate. (I thank Richardson for using her hi-tech skills to get the debate up on YouTube for more to see).

And, in fact, if one of the trio gets 60 percent of the delegate vote come April 12, that person will have been put into office by a few dozen stalwart Republican activist/delegates.

Why?

Because the Republican candidate is going to win this seat, located in the heart of very Republican Utah County.

No Democrat has been elected to any office in Utah County in recent memory.

Even though two Democrats filed in House 57 – Michael Plowman and Jim Thorne – the political reality is neither of them will win this November.

In short, either Greene, Richardson or Stevens will sit in House 57 come the 2015 Legislature.

And let me postulate that Greene finishes third in the county convention and is driven from office. That means the thousands of Republican voters in House 57 DID NOT get a chance to decide his fate in a primary.

Greene would be ousted from office by a few dozen GOP House 57 delegates – delegates who were picked by a few hundred loyal Republicans in the district’s March 20 neighborhood caucus meetings.

Such one-party dominance was at the heart of the Count My Vote citizen initiative.

In any case, I watched the debate on YouTube.

And I was impressed at the political knowledge of all three Republican candidates.

Greene had a tough first year in the Legislature in 2013. He came out with a very controversial gun rights bill, which failed after being watered down by colleagues and thoroughly slammed in the media.

He followed it up in the 2014 session with a bill that would limit the tax on high-priced cigars – which also failed.

Stevens took a shot at that cigar bill in the debate, saying you wouldn’t find him giving tax breaks to tobacco.

“It was based on sound tax policy,” countered Greene, which actually would increase tobacco tax revenues for the state.

Stevens talked a lot about himself in the debate. Bragging may not be the best word, but he laid it on pretty thick.

That’s understandable. He’s a local officeholder trying to take a step up, and trying to sell himself in a political process he’s new to.

At one point Stevens said that Greene, an attorney, had the “gift of gab” and could likely sell a Popsicle to an Alaskan.

Richardson does have one question to answer to her delegates – a question which wasn’t asked in the debate.

Why did she win the House 57 seat (she was appointed by delegates when the former representative had to resign after he inadvertently moved out of the district) only to resign the seat after one year?

This “quitter” question really hurt Democrat Ted Wilson in the 1988 Utah governor’s race.

Wilson resigned as mayor of Salt Lake City to take on the directorship of the U of U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, and GOP incumbent Gov. Norm Bangerter said you wouldn’t see him quitting an office, ever.

Wilson led Bangerter in the polls throughout the campaign, only to lose to the incumbent by 2 percentage points on Election Day.

Richardson resigned to become campaign manager for former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist in his intra-party challenge to U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012.

It will be interesting to see how Richardson handles that question over the next few weeks.

The only applause I heard from the delegates at the debate was when Richardson said she was proud that on her blog she called for former AG John Swallow’s resignation in January 2013 – just after news broke about some of Swallow’s dealings with person’s of questionable character.

She hinted that Greene had been a less-than-enthusiastic supporter of the GOP-controlled Utah House’s investigation of Swallow.

“I was told don’t rock the boat” for a new GOP attorney general, said Richardson. “I will support (Republicans or anyone else),” she said, “unless they prove to be corrupt.”

Honest politicians don’t “make deals under the table, under a Krispy Kreme table,” said Stevens, referring to the telling meeting at the local donut shop in which it appears Swallow was colluding with a man now under federal indictment.

Greene said he was proud that he voted against SB54, the “grand compromise” bill between Count My Vote and legislative Republicans.

Caucus supporters see SB54 as muting that process’s power. Stevens and Richardson both said they oppose SB54, as well.

If none of the trio can get 60 percent of the delegate vote in the April 12 House 57 delegate vote, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a June closed Republican Party primary.

The race is about over then – baring any unforeseen political earthquakes the GOP nominee will coast to victory in November.