Repeal or reform? Where do the GOP candidates for governor stand on the SB54 compromise?

2020 election 01

Five of the six major GOP candidates for governor don’t like SB54 as it now stands — the law that allows candidates to decide whether to gather voter signatures to make their primary ballot, or go to the traditional delegate convention, or take both routes at the same time.

All five want to change it in some way, or just have a ballot question to vote SB54 up or down.

Despite several contacts, former Gov. Jon Huntsman’s campaign did not respond to the question about SB54.

An attempt to gut SB54 in the current Legislature failed when Sen. Dan McCay’s bill was held in the Senate Rules Committee, without debate or a vote.

Public opinion polling by and other entities consistently shows that most Utahns strongly support law, even Utah registered Republicans support the dual pathway.

Two of the candidates, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes just want to repeal SB54. (Hughes voted for the compromise in 2014.)

But the other two said the law should be reformed in one way or another, with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox saying SB54 should be put on the ballot by the Legislature and let voters decide if they want to keep it or not.

Here are the responses:

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton

“SB54 should just be repealed, and each party decide for itself how it picks its nominees.

“I am a product of the caucus/convention system and I believe it’s a great way to vet candidates. It’s one of the reasons I am only going the caucus/convention route for this race. One of the benefits of the caucus/convention system is that candidates who don’t have millions of dollars to spend can still qualify for the ballot and I believe delegates are good at adequately vetting candidates. There are some changes we need to make as a party to this system, however. We need to increase the threshold from 60% to 67% to avoid a primary. This will increase the likelihood that two candidates end up on the primary ballot. We need to find ways to better engage people in the caucus/convention process. Technology will be a big help there. We also need to elect state delegates on odd years so they are not being stacked at convention by candidates.”

Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes

“SB54 should just be repealed, and each party decide for itself how it picks its nominees.

“But, we don’t need to wait until then to practice what we claim to support. I have never, and will never, gather signatures to advance to the primary election. Sound bites and campaign slogans shouldn’t replace in-depth analysis of our candidates. Ballot access through signature gathering is not a vetting process.”

Former state GOP chairman Thomas Wright

“In 2013, as Utah Republican Party Chairman, I thought it was important for the party to make modifications to our nominating process to avoid major changes being imposed on us by outside groups. After negotiating with Count My Vote (CMV), I was able to present a written compromise to the State Central Committee (SCC) from CMV that would have averted their proposed ballot initiative.

“The compromise required that the state party change its threshold for nominating a candidate at the state convention from 60% to 70% (later negotiations actually reduced the require change to 65%). The SCC needed a 2/3 majority vote to accept the compromise, but twice it failed by just a few votes. After the compromise failed, new party leaders and legislators identified a new compromise now referred to as SB54. As a candidate for Governor, I have found three major problems with SB54: 1. The signature gathering requirement to access the ballot favors those who can either self-finance or who can raise large amounts of money. 2. Gathering signatures does very little to connect candidates to voters. 3. It allows for winners by a plurality instead of a majority.

“While I don’t believe that state government should interfere in how political parties nominate candidates, I do believe that political parties cede some control when state government manages their membership records (the party uses the state’s voter registration database as its official membership directory), and hold political party primary elections at the expense of the taxpayer. For seven years, we have lived with this uncertainty that has produced lawsuits and divisiveness. It’s time for new leadership with the knowledge and experience to address these issues. When elected, a Thomas Wright & Rob Bishop administration (both of whom are former state GOP party chairs) will reform our now broken election process by uniting the party, and creating a clean process, with a clear winner.

Hi-tech entrepreneur Jeff Burningham

“SB54 has produced unintended consequences. Collecting signatures to get on the ballot is a waste of time and resources. The fact that an individual can collect 28,000 signatures does not necessarily mean that person would make a good governor. We could very well nominate a candidate for governor who receives only 20% of the vote. A governor should be elected with a strong mandate to implement their vision. There are things that we can do to strengthen and improve the caucus system and make it more inclusive.

“As a political newcomer, I don’t have all of the answers but here are a few ideas: increase the threshold a candidate must reach to become the nominee at convention, move caucus to a Saturday in hopes increasing attendance, try electing delegates in off-years so that they aren’t elected to support a certain candidate. Lastly, as a businessman, I would never want an outside entity to choose the chairman of the board of my company. If a political party is a private organization, it seems logical that they should be able to decide how their nominees are chosen.”

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox

“No issue has caused more internal disagreement between fellow Republican leaders than S. B. 54.  I believe the only path to move forward together is to place this issue before voters at the ballot box and settle this issue once and for all.  With this issue behind us, we can refocus our party’s efforts on sharing our conservative vision for Utah’s future.  If voters agree that the dual path to the ballot should continue, I believe the current process can still be improved including a requirement that candidates receive signatures from voters in all 29 Utah counties.  While I am proud of our campaign’s grassroots support helping us be the first candidate to turn in the required 28,000 signatures, I am proud that, unlike other campaigns, we did it almost entirely with the help of our volunteer supporters.  Utah voters deserve a choice, and as a candidate for governor I am not afraid of making my case to all 700,000 Republicans in this state.”