Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Polling Shows Why SB54 Will Change Utah’s Politics

bernick mugThis past week, UtahPolicy ran several poll analysis stories based on data provided by Dan Jones & Associates, Utah’s premiere public opinion survey organization.

For me – a reporter on Utah’s political scene for nearly 40 years – the results reported here were not that surprising.

But they were a reminder that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” – as my papa used to say.

Jones found in two different surveys – one of 417 rank-and-file Republicans and one of 605 state Republican Party delegates – that the party delegates were considerably more conservative politically than Republican voters at large.

Specifically:

— 62 percent of the delegates self-identified themselves to Jones as “very conservative” in their political philosophy.

— 47 percent of rank-and-file Republicans classified themselves as “very conservative.”

As Siri on my iPhone calculates for me, the delegates are about one-third more conservative than regular Utah Republican voters.

This is why, to me, SB54 is so important.

For it provides a way – even if it is not often, or always, taken – for Republicans in high state office to bypass their even-more-conservative party delegates and get on their party’s closed primary ballot WITHOUT having to kowtow to these delegates.

The Jones delegate poll speaks to the state party delegates only.

My guess is there are some counties, like Utah County, where one would find even a higher percentage than 62 percent of “very conservative” delegates.

So the 62-47 spread would even be greater.

My point is this: Around 40-44 percent of Utahns are Republicans.

Because of legislative redistricting or other factors, the Utah House today is 84 percent Republican.

The Utah Senate is 82.75 percent Republican.

Republicans have controlled the Legislature since the late 1970s.

We’ve had a Republican governor in Utah since 1985.

I certainly have no objection to majority rule, nor the person who wins the most votes being elected to office.

But because of Utah’s overwhelmingly GOP rule, it becomes necessary – some may argue critical – that the will of the majority of Republican voters holds sway.

It should be Republican voters – not any subsection of those voters – who put into office, who put into control, those who decide how to tax us, how to fund and run our public schools, who gets appointed judges to state courts, and on and on.

But, before SB54 – and its fountainhead, the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition drive of 2013-2014 – it was NOT always the Republican voters who were making those decisions.

In many cases, if not most cases, it was, in fact, Republican Party delegates – both at the county and state levels.

You see, a GOP candidate had to get past those party delegates to either win the nomination outright in his or her nominating convention or, at least, advance to the closed Republican Party primary – where only registered Republicans could vote for him or her and decide the party nominee.

And in so many races across Utah, the person who wins the GOP nomination nearly automatically wins the general election.

Republican Party delegates – which the new data show are so much more conservative than Republican voters – were picking our leaders, our lawmakers and governor.

This is not to say that GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and the 63 House Republicans and 24 Republican senators are a bunch of wackos, unfit for public office or rational thought.

It is to say the good elected folks who make our laws, appoint our judges, are looking over their political shoulders.

And looking out for whom?

The much more conservative party delegates – the first hurdle, before SB54, that had to be safely cleared before GOP incumbents could even face rank-and-file Republican primary voters.

Is it better to have those primary voters – the 40-44 percent of Utahns – picking our leaders, or the 4,000 delegates, 62 percent of whom are “very conservative?”

The new Dan Jones polls make the case for SB54.

And regardless of what the Utah Supreme Court rules or federal courts rule, on the language of SB54 now before them, it is wise self-government to have some way for the men and women who are going to run our state be able to get around the more-narrow political views of the Utah Republican Party delegates.