Was ‘Count My Vote” Compromise a Factor During County Conventions?

Once again proving that all elections are local, only one Utah House Republican incumbent who voted for the SB54 compromise bill last session, that marginalizes party delegates’ power, lost his re-election bid in his county convention over the weekend.


Veteran Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan – who was considered one of the few remaining “moderates” in the House — was defeated handily by GOP strategist/activist Kim Coleman.

All the other House Republicans whose seats are wholly in a county boundary, and who favored SB54, won their seats or at least survived to go into a June 24 closed Republican primary.

Thirteen House Republicans and three GOP senators, including Bird, started the round of county Republican conventions in the same situation.

A number of other House and Senate members who voted for SB54 and were challenged this year by a fellow Republican reside in multi-county districts.

And so their intra-party showdowns fall into the April 26 state Republican convention.

Bird was first elected in 2006 and has been a strong supporter of public education ever since. He is the House chair of the Business, Economic Development and Labor budget committee, and was an ally of House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, in her surprise speakership win several years ago.

SB54 is the “grand compromise” bill adopted in the 2014 that headed off the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition.

Under SB54, come the 2016 elections candidates can take several routes in seeking their party nominations:

— They can gather voter signatures (2,000 for a Senate race, 1,000 for a House race) and go directly to their party’s open primary.

— They can go through their county or state convention, winning the nomination with 60 percent of the delegate vote (if no other candidate goes the petition route), or making a primary with 40 percent of the delegate vote.

— Or they can take both routes at the same time, and even if they get less than 40 percent of the convention vote, they still make the party primary with the required number of voter signatures.

Many Republican Party local leaders strongly opposed SB54, as well as the CMV petition.

And re-election-seeking House and Senate Republicans who voted for SB54, and face intra-party challengers this year, are having to defend that vote.

Here are some of the results that occurred over the weekend during GOP county convention votes in a dozen local races:

In Iron County, the “ground zero” race for SB54, Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, finds himself in a primary election with Iron County GOP chairman Blake Cozzens – Westwood got more delegate votes but was not able to reach the 60 percent candidate convention-level victory majority.

Cozzens told UtahPolicy recently that while the SB54 vote by Westwood isn’t the only issue he’s challenging the incumbent on, it’s one that was resonating with many of the 154 delegates.

Cozzens is a strong CMV opponent, believes SB54 should be repealed, and cofounded a citizen movement to defeat the initiative.

Cozzens was criticized by state GOP leaders for refusing to resign his chairmanship of the Iron County GOP while challenging a fellow Republican.

That issue also played into Saturday’s results, no doubt.

Meanwhile, outside of Bird’s defeat, other Republican incumbents who voted for SB54 faired OK.

Rep. LaVar Christensen and Greg Hughes, both R-Draper, eliminated their Republican challengers in the Salt Lake County GOP convention.

Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan, voted against SB54, and he also won his intra-party race Saturday.

You can read all of the Salt Lake County GOP convention results here.

Utah County had two interesting contests with SB54 overtones.

In House District 60, Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, couldn’t eliminate Brad Daw, and so the two go to a primary.

Layton voted for SB54.

But she had a larger issue to battle: She was aided in her 2012 upset of Daw in the GOP primary by political consultant Jason Powers.

Powers and now-disgraced former AG John Swallow raised more than $425,000 in “dark money” from Utah’s pay-day loan industry, and used much of that cash to run an anonymous, negative campaign against Daw.

Daw had tried to regulate the pay-day loan industry through several bills the prior two years.

Layton ultimately defeated Daw, who has vowed revenge this year.

Daw told reporters that until Layton more fully explains her actions in the 2012 race he will continue bringing up the Powers’ negative campaigning.

Reps. Kevin Stratton, R-Orem; Dean Sanpei, R-Provo; and Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork; all voted for SB54, but won on Saturday.

Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, voted against SB54, but still found himself challenged by two strong Republicans – former Rep. Holly Richardson, well-known on Capitol Hill for her Holly On The Hill political blog; and John Stevens.

But Greene proved up to the task. He defeated both of them and won the nomination with more than 70 percent of the delegate vote.

Utah County hasn’t elected a Democratic legislator for many years, so Greene should coast to his re-election now.

You can see the Utah County GOP convention results here.

In Davis County, freshman Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, was barely re-nominated; he got 60.16 percent of the delegate vote.

Barlow actually missed the SB54 vote, being absent when the House roll call came.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, voted for SB54 and swept his challengers, winning 89 percent of the vote.

The Davis County GOP convention results are here.

House Republicans held two closed-door caucus meetings toward the end of the 2014 Legislature specifically to discuss SB54 and its potential impacts on their re-election bids this year.

No Democrats voted against the bill.

Polling showed that only 8 percent of Utah Democrats opposed the Count My Vote direct primary initiative.

So the minority party knew where its delegates votes were.

Polling also showed that most Republicans supported the direct primary route, as well.

Only “very conservative” Republicans – which most county and state GOP delegates are – opposed the CMV petition, various polls showed.

Except for Bird, the pro-SB54 Republican incumbents voted on in their county conventions have now either won their nominations or are heading toward primaries – where less-conservative Republicans dwell.

So it appears those SB54 votes of last session will no longer harm them.