Now that he no longer has to face Democratic state party delegates, what’s former U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson’s opinion of Utah’s party caucus/convention process?
Well, the moderate-to-conservative representative who just left office several weeks ago didn’t mince words at a pre-legislative conference Friday morning.
“The caucus system is a joke. I’d get rid of it all together and have direct primaries,” said Matheson, who several years ago was himself forced into a Democratic primary by a far more liberal intra-party challenger by state Democratic state delegates.
Special interests dominate party caucuses, said Matheson, who has hinted he may run for higher office in the future, maybe governor or U.S. Senate.
Winning a heavily-GOP seat in Utah is about winning the votes of 80 or so people who are elected your delegates, who in turn are picked in small neighborhood caucus meetings.
Other election-related/democracy issues that need change, says Matheson:
— Only 14 U.S. states allow a straight party ticket vote – Utah being one.
“Why is that? If you value your vote” Utah’s Legislature needs to do away with the straight party vote (where a voter can check a box at the top ballot and vote for all of the Republican or Democratic candidates on the ballot).
“Voters should have to look” at all the candidates for each office down ballot, said Matheson.
— “Let’s have an independent commission draw our” U.S. House and legislative district boundaries.
Matheson himself was politically harmed through redistricting in 2001 and in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature.
He actually jumped from his 2nd Congressional District in 2012 and ran in the newly, legislative redrawn 4th Congressional District.
Neither the Utah Republican or Democratic party leaders “have the guts” to push for such an independent redistricting commission, said Matheson, because both parties can protect their incumbents by having lawmakers drawing their own districts.
And the incumbents don’t want to compete openly, he added.
If Utah leaders are really worried about the drop off in voter participation in the state, they should do as California does and have a single, open primary.
All candidates, no matter what their political party designation, go on one primary ballot and the top two go to the final election. This could result in two Republicans in a very GOP district, or two Democrats in a very Democratic district.
But this way independents get to vote in the primary, and their votes really matter, said Matheson.