Utah GOP Considering Test for Candidates to Circumvent ‘Count My Vote’ Deal

Oh, boy, here we go.

State GOP leaders, UtahPolicy is told, are considering some kind of “scrutiny” of Republican Party candidates in light of SB54, which could include (1) an interview by a party committee and (2) payment of a candidate fee — and banning any candidate who takes the petition signature route from being able to use the Republican Party banner and name if they don’t do – and pass — the first two requirements.

GOP Chairman James Evans outlined some “scrutinizing” alternatives before his central committee meeting Saturday, held before Utah County GOP convention in Provo.

On a Monday KVNU radio program, state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful, was a guest, talking about possible changes to party vetting of candidates, when Evans called in – and the two had an interesting debate.

You can hear the radio program here.

A week ago, Evans told UtahPolicy that one way or another the state party would “scrutinize” and have a say on GOP candidates in 2016.

That’s when SB54 falls into play.

The state GOP had sued the state over the new law in federal court, and just lost a critical ruling two weeks ago when Federal Judge David Nuffer refused to place a temporary injunction against the law.

At those court hearings, says Evans, Nuffer said several times that court cases show that the state can’t interfere with party membership – the party itself will decide that.

Those statements said Evans, gave him and other party leaders an idea: Through party membership, party leaders can vet candidates for their worthiness.

Specifically, do the candidates taking the signature petition route to the party’s primary ballot really stand with GOP platforms and principles?

Now the question, says Evans, is how will the party ensure that 2016 candidates who DON’T take the caucus/delegate/convention route – where delegates have in the past done that vetting – are really Republicans?

“The judge actually gave us this idea,” Evans told UtahPolicy on Tuesday, of using party membership as the tool to keep pseudo-Republicans from appearing on the ballot under the GOP banner.

If there comes about some loyalty, or “real Republican” test, by state party officials of 2016 candidates, it would not be the first time such an issue has come forward.

For more than a decade, says Weiler, the Davis County Republican Party has asked candidates in that county to read the platform and sign a statement they agree with it.

If there are areas where the candidates disagree with the platform, they are to list those disagreements. And in the Davis County nominating conventions, those disagreements are listed to educate the delegates.

Weiler used to be Davis County GOP chairman, and he told UtahPolicy Tuesday that he still believes those candidate statements are proper.

What he’s worried about, said Weiler, is that there will be some kind of state party candidate PPI – Mormon-speak for a Personal Priesthood Interview.

“Are we going to have to appear under the white lights and be grilled” by some group of party officials? Asks Weiler.

The PPI is where male Mormons are interviewed privately by local priesthood leaders to see if they are following LDS Church beliefs and guidelines and are worthy to hold lay church callings, even get a temple recommend.

Weiler said he disliked the whole Count My Vote citizen initiative drive of 2014 because he sees it as several dozen “elite” rich Republicans trying to change party nominating processes.

Now, said Weiler, Evans is talking about taking the worst part of CMV – that elitist decision-making — and doing exactly the same thing.

Evans vehemently denies Weiler’s interpretation. But he confirms the logistics of Weiler’s complaints.

The new idea, Evans said, is that the state party would put together a committee before which candidates taking the petition route would have to appear for an interview.

Several UtahPolicy sources said they’ve heard that the party would charge a candidate going through the interview process a fee — $2,500 for a legislative race up to $10,000 for a statewide race, like governor or U.S. Senate.

Evans said no amount has yet been set – and indeed the whole candidate interview process would have to be approved by delegates to the state’s Aug. 15 convention.

But Evans confirmed that petition route candidates would have to pay the party some sum.

That’s because, said Evans, SB54 creates “a new environment, and it will be more costly” for the party “to now have a filtering process before the primary” election to inform voters.

It’s only fair that petition route candidates pay that cost, he added.

For example, after the interview, party officials will have to communicate with GOP primary voters that the candidate agrees with the party platform and principles, or if he does not, where exactly he disagrees with the platform and principles.

That could come through emails, but it may also mean some kind of direct mail campaign – similar to a campaign that a candidate himself may be running in his district, or statewide for a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate.

And those are expensive matters, said Evans.

If a petition route candidate refuses to sit for an interview, then “his party membership would be in jeopardy,” said Evans.

And if his party membership were taken away, said Evans, then the candidate could not appear on the primary or general election ballot under the official Republican Party banner or designation.

All this is too much for Weiler.

“It is almost insane” to require such an interview and judgment by party leaders, said Weiler, a former vice-chairman of the state party.

And making the petition route candidates pay a special fee to be on GOP primary ballot, well, Weiler told UtahPolicy he believes that would be illegal: “You would be selling the Republican Party brand, selling a slot on the primary ballot.

“I remember when the party used to donate money to candidates, now we have to pay them?” He added.

Evans got into short shouting matches with Weiler on the radio program, with Evans accusing Weiler several times of “misrepresenting” the goals of the state party and purposing lying about them.

But Weiler says Evans’ ideas are way off the mark.

“I don’t believe the delegates – the party – will ever do this – the PPI and charging candidates a fee. This is just James losing (the federal court suit) and jumping in a hole and digging it even deeper,” said Weiler.

It’s time for Evans and other party leaders to just see SB54 for what it is, said Weiler: A smartly crafted compromise that allows at least some candidates to go the caucus convention route.

“I totally support the caucus/convention system,” said Weiler. “I wouldn’t be in office without my delegates.”

But Evans is not about to give up the anti-SB54 battle, he told UtahPolicy.

He believes the interview/fee candidate petition route is wholly justified, and it is just the party having some say in their candidate nomination process.

“This vetting (before SB54) was the caucus and delegates,” said Evans, who, along with his Central Committee and most of the delegates, has opposed SB54 from the start.

Now the interview committee will have some say – if only to verify that the petition route candidates support the party platform, he said.

But, Evans acknowledged, it could go further than that.

For example, let’s say a petition-route candidate went to the interview, swore that he agreed with all of the GOP platform and general Republican principles, like lower taxes and fiscal responsibility.

What if the candidate, after paying his fee and getting the official GOP nod, started campaigning saying he was more like a libertarian – was for same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana and such?

Evans told UtahPolicy: “If he chose to be dishonest, we (the party) would have to aggressively communicate that” to voters. “We’d say he couldn’t be a member of our party” – and thus couldn’t appear on the ballot under the GOP banner and logo.

“We want a connection with anyone running under our banner,” said Evans, “whether that connection is appearing before our delegates in convention or sitting for the interview before the committee.

“If any (candidate) failed to meet the membership requirement, we would notify” the voters.

“That is the point – you would not be a member of our party, you would not be (listed as a Republican) on the ballot.”