Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Family Squabbles

One GOP state House member has already gotten out of his re-election bid, while others are finding serious challengers.


Historically, many Republican incumbents in the Utah Legislature don’t find much intra-party opposition.

But 2014 is turning out to be different.

This week UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott reported that Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, has quietly withdrawn from his House District 12 re-election.

Greenwood was being challenged inside his party by Mike Schultz, a wealthy developer.

Sources say that Schultz did a fine job in recruiting and stacking the House 12 GOP caucuses in his favor, electing a number of pro-Schultz delegates.

Greenwood himself says he likely couldn’t have gotten 60 percent of the delegate vote in his GOP convention, and so would have at least gone to an expensive primary – if in fact Schultz didn’t knock him from office in the convention.

Greenwood says his “aye” vote on SB54 – the “grand compromise” bill that many GOP insiders believe will harm the caucus/delegate/convention system – had noting to do with his decision to withdraw.

That may be.

But clearly the caucus/delegate/convention system led to Greenwood’s decision – since Schultz was making such headway with the district’s GOP delegates.

Assuming no major changes to SB54 in the 2015 or 2016 Legislatures, this will be the last election cycle were party delegates are guaranteed a shot at legislative candidates.

Come the 2016 election cycle county, legislative, state and federal candidates can choose one of three options:

— Collect a set number of voter signatures and go directly to their party’s open primary ballot.

— Go to their party convention and try to get delegates to put them on the open primary ballot.

— Go both routes at the same time – go to the convention, but if they fail to get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote they will still be on the party’s open primary ballot because they also collected the required number of voter signatures.

A UtahPolicy analysis of the 2014 legislative match-ups, combined with “aye” votes on SB54, shows that 14 Republican representatives (now 13 with Greenwood’s withdrawal) who supported the grand compromise are facing intra-party challengers and trying to explain to their delegates why they voted for a law that will marginalize future delegates’ influence.

Three GOP senators who voted “aye” on SB54 are in the same political quandary.

Ground zero for the battle is Iron County’s House District 72, where SB54 supporter Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, faces SB54/Count My Vote opponent Blake Cozzens.

Polling shows that by far most Utahns, even most rank-and-file Republicans, supported the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition, which aimed at putting on the 2014 general election ballot a new law that would dump the caucus/delegate/convention candidate nomination system in favor of a direct primary.

Under CMV candidates would gather a certain percent of registered party voter signatures to make the primary ballot.

The only demographic group that came near to opposing CMV were arch-conservative Republicans – who also make up most of the county and state GOP delegates in Utah.

So, once again, Republican legislators are faced with either dancing to the tune of their party’s arch-conservative right wing on an issue, or face being kicked from office by delegates who don’t reflect the general political beliefs of most voting Utah Republicans.

That is exactly the problem that CMV was trying to address.

Only it is coming too late for some GOP legislative incumbents in the 2014 elections.

Or if not too late, then at least many GOP legislators will suffer through the 2014 elections – and win re-election – with the quiet hopes that come 2016 they can go the voter petition route, or the petition/convention route, and not have to worry so much about getting blind-sided by arch-conservative delegates/candidates who don’t believe they are conservative enough.

If the Utah Republican Party is really a big-tent family, then the noisy archconservative cousins are causing trouble over in the corner.

They will have to be put up with for another two years.

But then the majority of the family won’t have to listen so much to them come 2016.