Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Cut off the Head and the Body Will Die

Best to just cut off the snake’s head.

That’s how I see the move by Count My Vote to not “tweak” Utah’s caucus/convention, primary ballot candidate process, but in effect dump the current caucus/convention system for a direct route to a party’s primary.


This week CMV officially filed its citizen initiative petition.

The fact that a group of heavy-hitting Republicans and Democrats were going to do this was no secret.

CMV, with various spokespersons over the last year, has been talking about this move consistently.

But what surprised me – and not a few others – is that CMV bosses decided NOT to pursue the dual-track candidate route its leaders have talked about for more than 18 months.

Rather, they decided to just allow all candidates to have their names go directly to their party’s primary ballot, bypassing the caucus/convention process completely.

That dual-track idea went like this:

— A candidate, let’s say a Republican running for Congress, could go through the current caucus/convention process and take his chances with the 1,200 or so U.S. House state GOP delegates in the state Republican convention.

If he got more than 40 percent of the vote, he would make it to the June GOP closed primary.

If he got 60 percent or more, he was the Republican Party nominee, and he didn’t have a June primary. He’d go directly to the November general election.

Or, under the original CMV idea, the candidate could get 2 percent of all the registered voters in his House district on a petition. And that would send him directly to the June GOP primary ballot.

He wouldn’t appear in the state GOP convention at all.

That dual-track option seemed reasonable to a number of political insiders I have spoken with over time.

Even a number of sitting GOP officeholders privately told me this was a good idea.

Of course they wouldn’t say so publicly, because many of them have to run for re-election in 2014 – under the old caucus/convention system. And the officeholders would be insulting the very delegates they need to vote for them in their county or state political conventions next year.

Even if their re-elections weren’t until 2016, if CMV failed then, again, those officeholders would be facing the delegates whose influence in candidate selection the officeholder was trying to mute.

Thus the great silence on Capitol Hill — or the great complaints from sitting officeholders over the original CMV petition plan.

But now all that changes.

CMV isn’t going to mess around with the snake, maybe try to kick it to the side of the road and hope it doesn’t come back to bite them.


Just get the old shovel and whack that head right off.

Under CMV’s petition any candidate who otherwise qualified would go directly to his party’s June primary ballot.

There could be one, two or 10 candidates on the ballot.

Under current law, the one who got the most votes would win.

If CMV passes, then the Utah Legislature could decide to have the top two primary candidates go to a run-off election.

But there is no provision for that now in the law.

So, in theory, you could have a GOP congressional candidate win his party’s nomination with 30 percent or less of the primary vote.

And (except for whoever is running against Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in the new 4th District), almost assuredly that GOP candidate would win in November.

Now, before some start complaining about only 30 percent of GOP primary voters basically deciding who the next GOP congressman is, let’s look at the facts.

Under the current caucus/convention system you have around 1,200 state delegates voting in each of the four congressional districts in the state convention.

You have to get 60 percent of the vote to win outright, or 720 delegates. But your race could be decided by much fewer than that.

I remember one of Merrill Cook’s congressional races where he survived to another round of convention voting by 18 delegates. Cook got to 40 percent, and went on to win the GOP primary and win a seat in the U.S. House – and 18 people kept his political future alive.

I argue it is better to put all candidates on the primary ballot, even if the winner gets less than 50 percent of the vote, than it is to let 18 GOP delegates decide whether a person makes it to the primary or not.

The more who participate in a democracy, the better off the democracy is.

I continue to make this example: In 2008, then-Gov. Olene Walker had job approval ratings in the 80th percentile – she was a very popular governor.

But Walker finished fifth in the state GOP convention that year – too moderate for the archconservatives there — with a handful of delegates making the decision to drive Walker from office.

All Republicans in the state (now around 520,000 registered) should have had a say in Walker’s fate. They did not.

The same applies to U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett. In 2010 he finished third in a Tea Party driven state convention – out of office just like Walker.

The state Republican and Democratic party leaderships vehemently oppose the CMV petition. For it is telling them how to nominate their candidates.

Delegates and other party activists hate the CMV petition. For it is taking considerable power away from them.

Regular ole citizens should love the CMV petition. For it gives them a chance to recapture the nominating process of their particular political parties.

In a one-party dominate state like Utah, the more people who get the chance to vote on a GOP candidate the better.

It is as simple as that.


(Editor’s Note: UtahPolicy publisher LaVarr Webb sits on the CMV board of directors.)