GOP Bylaw Changes Sparking Confusion

Some general confusion – at least by me – on the resolutions to be put forward at Saturday’s state Republican Party convention.

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans says all should remain calm, and no conspiracy or underhandedness is going on – just a mix-up by party staffers about the agenda and some lawyerly language needed to deal with SB54, the party-much-hated new candidate nomination procedure statute.

You can read proposed changes to the constitutional and bylaws here.

Proposal No. 4 says that if any candidate gets 60 percent or more of the convention delegate vote, he or she proceeds directly to the general election.

That may sound like that nominee misses any primary election and is automatically the GOP nominee.

And that any GOP candidate who takes SB54’s petition gathering route is out of luck, and out of the election.

But that IS NOT the case, Evans explains to me.

“It just means that (convention winner’s name) goes to the (Utah Elections Office) and will be put on the primary ballot – which we no longer control” under SB54.

“It is lawyerly language needed to maintain” the state party lawsuit in federal court against SB54, says Evans.

The proposal does not do away with a GOP primary, nor would it end up guaranteeing a convention nominee winner a place on the general election ballot under the Utah Republican Party’s banner, says Evans.

But he admits it may be a bit confusing to some (including me) who don’t understand its purpose and need.

The 4,000 or so GOP state delegates will vote on all of the proposed changes, and if a majority agree will adopt them.

There is another change, listed as Proposal No. 1 on the agenda, which has already been approved by the party’s Central Committee.

It is a constitutional change, in part, and so must be approved by the convention delegates.

It says that party membership can be decided in the bylaws.

And bylaws changes don’t have to be approved by the whole convention of delegates, but can be approved by the Central Committee itself.

The CC is made up of about 180 members, who in turn are elected by state convention delegates. (There are some “automatic” state Central Committee members, like the governor and the congressional delegation, or their designees.)

If that passes Saturday, then at some later date the CC could vote to restrict party membership for candidates who take the petition-only route to the GOP primary ballot as explicitly allowed by SB54.

In other words, it would be a method to deny SB54 petition-route candidates a slot in the GOP primary without first going before state delegates.

Among other things, this is one of the chief complaints by Republican Party bosses about the SB54 compromise – which they never agreed to and in fact opposed in the 2014 Legislature.

But it is also the main item demanded by Count My Vote organizers for CMV to stop their 2014 ballot petition initiative.

If the Republican Party – either in convention by delegates or by Central Committee action later – were to hamper, harm or outright disallow a petition route candidate access to the party’s primary ballot, then CMV organizers, who include former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt, say they will start the CMV initiative petition effort again.

Initially, some claimed that the CMV petition was aimed at getting a viable, more moderate, candidate in opposition to Sen. Mike Lee’s 2016 re-election – a candidate who could bypass the conservative delegates and face Lee on the GOP primary ballot.

But it’s turned out that no really strong, more moderate candidate has surfaced to challenge Lee – who now is improving his favorable ratings in the polls and seems in good shape for 2016.

It could be that the state GOP Central Committee – with the power given it by Saturday’s convention delegates – could be stalling on the SB54 petition-route candidate issue.

The CC, for example, could meet in December and change bylaws on membership – stripping any SB54 petition-gathering-only candidate from membership, stopping his candidacy dead in his tracks.

And it would likely be too late, time wise, for the CMV to start a new petition drive for the 2016 ballot.

That may save the convention delegates for one election cycle.

But it’s likely CMV would come back for 2018 – maybe getting its direct primary law on the ballot that year for voter approval.

That would mean, however, that a direct primary wouldn’t take effect until the 2020 elections.

And assuming U.S. Sen. Orrin Hath, R-Utah, doesn’t run again in three years, the 2018 state GOP convention delegates would be the power behind nominating a U.S. Senate Hatch replacement.

 And since incumbents have great re-election advantages, once again delegates – in reality — could be picking a Utah U.S. Senator for years, if not decades, to come.

One must ask if all this political jockeying by state GOP bosses/delegates is worth it.

Wouldn’t the bad public reaction, hard feelings, and general disgust outweigh any tangible political benefits for the state Republican Party?

Well, when you’ve been the party bosses for generations – no Democratic governor has been elected since 1980, no Democratic U.S. senator elected since 1970, and the Legislature has been heavily Republican since 1978 – then perhaps the answer is “yes.”

Or even hell “yes.”

Delegates have been used to picking statewide candidates and legislators – who face only nominal opposition in the general election – for years.

And they don’t want to give up that power to “moderate” voters in a primary – even a primary closed to only registered Republicans.

It’s an odd situation.

And Saturday delegates will be asked to allow Central Committee members to decide who can be, and who can’t be, a Utah Republican.

What will happen after that, who knows?

Maybe new Central Committee members will be more reasonable than previous Central Committee members.

Or maybe GOP candidates who take SB54’s petition route to the Republican primary ballot will be stripped of party membership, unable to run as Republicans.

And the Count My Vote initiative will start all over again.