GOP Leaders Intend to Comply with SB54

Sunshine GOP House caucus

Utah House Republicans hold an “open” caucus on the Capitol plaza Wednesday because their third-floor caucus room is being remodeled. House Republicans usually allow the public and media into their caucus meetings. Democratic House and Senate caucuses, likewise, are open.

Said House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville: “We’re showing you the sunshine. Let it shine. We hold open caucuses — now go look at the Senate.” Senate Republicans hold closed caucus meetings, and have for years.

If sentiments expressed Wednesday at a GOP House caucus come true, the fight over SB54 will be suspended for the rest of this year.

But expect at least some changes to the controversial political party candidate nomination law to be debated in the 2016 Legislature.

State GOP Chairman James Evans addressed the 63-member caucus to say that – as far as he’s concerned – the fight over the bill is finished for now (although the party’s federal lawsuit will continue).

And, said Evans, Republican Party leaders need to come together, make changes so the party can become a Qualified Political Party under SB54, and then move ahead to elect Republicans in 2016.

But while the “pivot” on SB54 is welcome, countered Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, House co-sponsor of the 2014 bill, he and others were displeased to see party leaders act like “spoiled children” – acting up, criticizing and throwing temper tantrums over SB54 instead of just recognizing the law actually “saved” the caucus/convention system.

Some politicos have privately told UtahPolicy that Evans may be a master tactician: He knew his Central Committee members wouldn’t go along with SB54 until the last minute, so he played publicly to their displeasure all while waiting for the proper timing.

Then, in visiting county GOP conventions this spring, Evans sprang an idea that he knew would bring general displeasure down on GOP leaders’ heads – kick out of the party candidates who refused to go before “purity” committee hearings, and make other candidates declare where they disagreed, if they did, with the GOP platform.

And after a public outcry, only then could Evans rally the troops – via a survey of Republican caucus-goers, delegates and officeholders – and bring enough sense to Central Committee members and delegates to get needed SB54 “reforms” passed in the Aug. 15 state Republican Convention.

Other insiders say that’s giving Evans way too much credit.

It is more likely, they say, that he just blundered his way into his latest situation, and all the internal GOP bloodletting never had to happen at all.

In any case, Evans updated House Republicans in an open caucus (literally open, held on a Capitol Hill plaza because the majority caucus room is being expanded on the Capitol’s third floor).

Evans passed out the latest figures on an intra-party survey sent out to 60,000 GOP caucus-goers, 4,000 delegates and dozens of Republican officeholders.

House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, asked how many GOP House members had filled out the survey – almost all raised their hands, with only two or three saying they had not answered the questionnaire yet.

Evans admitted that the survey was not statistically sound – the party sample didn’t include 600,000 registered Republicans in the state.

But, he added, the survey did great in showing party leaders – including his 180-member Central Committee and the 4,000 state delegates – general indications of support and opposition to various SB54-related issues.

Especially, said Evans, the survey shows agreement between the caucus-goers, delegates and GOP officeholders – and a “pathway forward.”

And there are only a few real differences between the three groups


— The Utah Republican Party needs to make whatever changes are necessary in their constitution and bylaws to become in 2016 a Qualified Political Party.

That will allow GOP candidates to take the caucus/convention route if they wish, or the petition- gathering route, or both, to get on the Republican primary ballot.

— The party should not endorse candidates before the primary election.

— The party should continue its lawsuit against SB54.

— The party should require GOP candidates to sign pledges to the party platform, and detail where they disagree with any part of it, if they do.

— The Legislature should allow only a majority-vote candidate to be a party nominee.

— GOP candidates should not be charged a party fee to run as a Republican.

Some other findings from the survey (which only has round 4,000 respondents out of 65,000 sent out):

— GOP candidates who in 2016 shun the caucus/convention route – and take only the legal petition-gathering route — could be denied party resources, like Republican voter email addresses, discounted postage rate, data tools and party volunteers.

— A Republican candidate can’t be a member of any other political party.

— Many caucus-goers and delegates said it was OK if a candidate had to meet with party officials (the so-called “purity” committee). But 75 percent of sitting Republican officeholders are against that idea.

Some of the survey’s answers are mutually exclusive.

For example, by 60 percent majorities in each group (caucus-goers, delegates and officeholders) respondents said the party should NOT endorse a candidate before the primary.

But in answer to another question, the caucus-goers and delegates say the party may endorse more than one candidate in each race, while GOP officeholders say no, the party should only endorse one candidate per race.

“I’ve been frustrated over the last year,” said McCay, “over the party’s reaction” to SB54.

The party leaders – specifically Evans – could have taken the route of “mutual coordination and worked together” to comply with SB54 to win as many 2016 races as possible.

“But they took the vitriolic response,” said McCay.

The party acted as he did, said McCay, when as a child his family moved to Utah. He said he was “disrespectful to my parents,” threw temper tantrums and shouted vitriol when told he must leave his friends.

“We’ve been dealing with childlike behavior” from party leaders, said McCay. “I’m grateful they’ve turned a corner.”

But just a few weeks ago at various Lincoln Day dinners Evans was spewing all kinds of language against SB54 and, by implication, those GOP legislators who passed it in 2014, said McCay.

“We need to end the fear mongering” of SB54 and move forward to elect Republicans next year, said McCay.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Dunnigan both said that in the 2016 Legislature something must be done about the issue of a primary election winner getting just a plurality, and not a majority, of the vote.

Under current law (SB54 did not address plurality), if more than two party candidates are on a primary ballot, the one with the most votes wins.

If there are 10 or more candidates, it could be likely the “winner” gets less than 50 percent of the vote – maybe even as low as 30 percent.

If 70 percent of the party voters didn’t want that person to be the party nominee, is that fair or right? They ask.

“If we don’t act prior” to the 2016 elections, said Hughes, “I’m afraid we could learn how important it is to do it a better way” than just allowing the top vote-getter to “win.”

The plurality issue does not have to be decided in a special session this year, said McCay, but could wait until the 2016 Legislature.