Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Political Flotsam and Jetsam

bernick mugA couple of items this week in my column on the Utah political scene:

— GOP Gov. Gary Herbert told his KUED-TV Channel 7 news conference – the last one for 2015 – that he doesn’t anticipate calling a special legislative session before the late-January start of the annual general session.

If he doesn’t call lawmakers into special session – and only he can do so – then there won’t be changes to SB54, the candidate nomination compromise bill, before the Jan. 4 start of candidate petition gathering season.

There won’t be changes to the number of signatures required for Utah state House and Senate candidates.

And unless a court rules sometime between now and the mid-March candidate filing deadline, there won’t be clarification on whether a potential GOP candidate can be kicked out of the party (and denied the right to run as a Republican) for taking the signature-gathering route to the primary election.

— No special session will also likely mean (although perhaps this could be settled in the general session) that any candidate for the State Board of Education will automatically go on to the general election ballot just by filing a proper candidate declaration.

The later, said Herbert, would be unfortunate.

For the governor prefers that there be some screening of candidates – through a tweaked current bifurcated process, a partisan primary, a nonpartisan primary or the governor playing a greater role in the process.

If nothing is done, then a court ruling declaring the current process unconstitutional would mean any duly filed candidate would make the general election ballot, said Herbert.

And if five, six or more candidates filed for each open board seat it could very well mean the highest vote-getter (and winner) would have less than 50 percent of the vote, and there would be a minority-approved board member take office.

— Herbert confirmed what had previously been reported by UtahPolicy: That GOP state leaders want to get together with state attorneys and the lieutenant governor’s Utah Election Office and present to a judge their opposing arguments on SB54.

“There is urgency” on the subject, said Herbert.

And he believes a judge would act in such need to decide the critical issue: Can the state GOP kick out of the party a candidate who seeks the petition-gathering route to the Republican Party primary ballot?

State party chairman James Evans says that SB54 is written in such a way the party can pick only the delegate/convention route to the candidate nomination.

If a candidate chooses only the petition route, or both the petition route and delegate/convention routes at the same time (as allowed under SB54), then party bylaws say that candidate must be denied party membership.

And since only a party member can win a GOP candidate nomination, that petition-route person can’t run as a Republican, or be listed as a GOP candidate on the general election ballot.

Herbert had previously said that he plans to take SB54’s binary option – gather the required 28,000 signatures statewide AND appear before delegates in the 2016 state GOP convention.

But, as I pointed out to Herbert in the press conference, that would mean Evans would kick Herbert’s butt out of the Utah Republican Party.

“I’m a Republican,” said Herbert. “I’ve always been a Republican, run as a Republican. I have a great big R after my name” in official listings of Utah governors.

Herbert said that it was wise to quickly get a decision from a judge on SB54’s major dual route allowances – legal or not legal.

The governor did hedge a bit Thursday.

He said while he did originally say he would take the dual route – petition signatures and convention – he is “perfectly” comfortable only appearing before convention delegates.

If he got 60 percent of the state delegate vote, he’d be the party’s gubernatorial nominee for 2016.

He’s being challenged by businessman Jonathan Johnson. Johnson, in theory, could take Herbert out of office with 60 percent of the delegate vote.

But it would be more likely that neither Herbert nor Johnson could get 60 percent, and both would go to the June 2016 GOP primary.

Johnson has also said he’s comfortable with delegates only, but if allowed would take the dual route, petition and convention

That way Johnson couldn’t be eliminated in convention by a surging Herbert – but the challenger making the primary ballot where his personal money could come into play more effectively in the six-week primary campaign.

On other topics:’

— Herbert said as governor he would never suppose to tell a religion how it should act, nor what its doctrines nor policies should be.

Thus, he has no comment on the LDS Church’s recent decision, controversial as it is, to deny children of same-sex couples (married or not) to have their children “named/blessed” in infancy or baptized at eight years old.

At 18 those children would have to formally renounce their parents’ union/relationship to serve an LDS mission.

— In a related issue, Herbert said he is “puzzled” by a state court judge’s recent ruling that a married lesbian couple in Price had to give up their foster baby; the judge saying that a heterosexual couple is a better fit to raise the child.

Herbert said his social services officials would review the matter, perhaps appeal the judge’s ruling.

He added no judge should put his personal beliefs above the law, but stopped short of accusing the judge of doing so in this case.

— And even though a UtahPolicy Dan Jones’ survey found that two-thirds of Utahns would support a one percentage point increase in their personal income taxes to support public education, Herbert said he won’t be asking for any tax hikes in the 2016 session.

Utah’s economy and job growth are booming, said the governor.

Utah is the best-managed state, has the best economy, most stable economic future and has shown considerable improvement in its education efforts, he said.

Thus, in no way does he want to mess with this “finely tuned” engine – and won’t be asking for any tax hikes – which would only take more money away from Utahns and could harm the good economic times, he said.