Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Promise Keepers

Here’s the question: Does a legislative body have a moral obligation to keep a promise the members made to the voters who elected them?

And if so, how long does that moral obligation stand: One year? Two years? Ten years?

The 104 part-time Utah House and Senate members will be asked that question in the 2015 Legislature, now about one month away.

While there may be several specific issues that meet this test, no doubt the major one will be SB54 – the 2014 Legislature’s compromise law with the leaders of the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition.

The law doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2015.

But already the Utah Republican Party has filed suit in federal court to declare it unconstitutional.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes have pledge to “vigorously” defend SB54, although Herbert says he welcomes his party’s lawsuit as it may well define some of the new law’s parameters.

First GOP state chairman James Evans said he expects nothing from the 2015 Legislature on SB54. Let the court case play itself out.

But then Evans released a statement saying that he doesn’t see how the Utah Republican Party – for a variety of reasons – can meet party registration deadlines set in SB54.

And the result, says Evans, is that there may be NO candidates in the 2016 election running under the Republican Party banner on the general election ballot.

That, of course, would be a disaster for Utah’s majority party.

Rich McKeown, president of CMV, who helped draft the SB54 compromise law, says that is ridiculous, any political party can meet the SB54 registration deadlines, and not doing so could only be seen as “poor leadership” by GOP bosses.

While the Utah Elections Office wades, once again, through the possible impacts of SB54, there will be attempts in the 2015 Legislature (by Republicans, Democrats now officially support SB54) to repeal it, or at the very least gut the measure in an attempt to give party delegates more of a say in selecting party candidate nominees.



SB54 Flowchart

Before looking at the moral side of the SB54 promises made in the 2014 Legislature, let’s look at the political.

By UtahPolicy’s count, there will be 38 House members returning to the 2015 Legislature who voted for SB54. That is a majority.

There will be 18 senators returning next session who voted for SB54, three more than the required majority of 15.

Thus, while House members may be on the edge of making real changes to SB54, or even repealing it, more minds and promises would have to be changed in the Senate to take significant action on the new law.

Sources in Senate leadership tell UtahPolicy there is a feeling that the law should be allowed to stand for the 2016 elections – maybe longer – to see the real-world political implications of allowing an alternative route to a party’s primary ballot – and basically neutering the significant power of the current party delegates in picking party candidates.

A new poll by UtahPolicy, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, finds that 62 percent of registered voters favor the CMV petition, only 29 percent oppose it.

Break that down by party, and 49 percent of Republicans favor it, 41 percent oppose.

Eighty-five percent of Democrats favor the CMV, only 11 percent oppose; independents favor CMV 73-24 percent.

The 49-41 split by Republicans is fairly close; so the question remains will GOP legislators do what all of their constituents want, or only what their party members want?

In addition, Jones asked: Should SB54 see changes in the 2015 Legislature?

Among all Utahns, 54 percent said no, 36 percent yes.

Forty-four percent of Republicans say no, keep SB54 as is; 36 percent say change it.

Eighty percent of Democrats say keep the law, 12 percent say change; while 61 percent of political independents say keep the law, 27 percent say change it.

Republicans hold two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.

Will the majority keep the promise made in SB54 from a year ago?

Or will they backtrack, and follow their party’s desires rather than their whole constituency?

Will Republican Gov. Herbert, who signed SB54, stand up to his party bosses?

Or will he, too, sign a SB54 repeal, or approve major amendments to the law – which now allows for an alternative route by a party candidate to his party’s primary ballot without having to go before party delegates?

Herbert, all of the 75-member House and half of the 29-member Senate will be on the 2016 ballot – and have to play under the new candidate selection rules found in SB54.

House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and two of his three-member leadership team voted for SB54.

Returning Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and all of his leadership team voted for SB54.

It would be nice to see GOP legislators keep a promise they made to voters for at least one election cycle – in this case through the 2016 elections.

With SB54, the 2015 Legislature will show what kind of honor will prevail.