Attempt to Gut ‘Count My Vote’ Compromise Paused in the House

Utah State CapitolWell, you knew it was coming – the first sneaky attempt to gut SB54 in the Legislature was beaten back Tuesday afternoon in the Utah House.

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, was attempting to pass his innocuous HB69, which would make minor changes to a Qualified Political Party’s alternate delegate language in SB54 when Rep. Justin Fawson tried to substitute the bill for one that would make “monumental” changes to the dual-pathway candidate nomination law.

Basically, Fawson, R-North Ogden, asks that a political party itself can decide whether to allow a candidate to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot, convention delegates will get to vote on all candidates, or both routes will be taken at the same time.

The Utah State Republican Party is in federal court right now claiming that it is unconstitutional for the state to decide how the party decides its nominees – specifically that the party has already decided that only the delegate/convention route is legal under party bylaws and that the signature route is illegal.

The state argues that – like in many other states – the legislature can decide who gets on the taxpayer-funded primary ballot – and so letting the candidate decide between the two routes is perfectly legal.

Fawson admitted that some lawmakers may be having “buyers’ remorse” over SB54 – passed two years ago before Fawson and some others were in the Legislature.

After Fawson made his motion to substitute Cox’s bill with his own anti-SB54 bill, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, jumped up and moved that the bill be circled – legislative-talk for holding for another day.

Fawson, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, and other anti-SB54 folks spoke against circling.

A voice vote was called for, and the “yeas” to circle clearly carried the day.

SB54 opponents then called for a recorded vote – to get the pro-SB54 folks on the record before their party bosses and delegates – and the motion to wait passed 44-25.

Cox himself said he had seen Fawson’s substitute bill – which Cox, a long time SB54 foe, admitted made significant changes to his original HB69 – only a half hour before Fawson tried to replace the anti-SB54 language Tuesday afternoon just before adjournment for the day.

Key to the whole SB54 compromise with the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition backers in 2014 was that the state would provide two pathways to a party’s state-paid-for primary election – the signature petition route (see accompanying UtahPolicy story) and the traditional delegate/convention route.

Or a candidate could decide – key to this issue, the candidate, not the party, decides – to take both routes at the same time.

The Utah Republican Party never agreed to the SB54 compromise. And the party has been fundraising to pay for lawsuits against SB54 ever since.

The party’s second federal lawsuit is now moving forward, with arguments set in Judge David Nuffer’s court this month.

 Another part of SB54 is going to the Utah Supreme Court presently.

And the Utah Election Office, under the control of GOP Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (no relation to Fred Cox) has decided all qualified petition candidates will be put on the Republican and Democratic parties’ June primary ballots – no matter how delegates may vote on them in county and state convention this spring.

You can read Fawson’s substitute HB69 here.

In arguing to circle the bill, Arent asked legislators to look at the differences between Fred Cox’s original bill and Fawson’s substitute. You can see the differences here.

“You can see the significant, the momentous” changes proposed by Fawson, said Arent.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, said attempts like Fawson’s “is one reason to pay attention” to what is going on the House floor.

Anticipating negative reaction from the media and other sectors, Powell said you never know when a new headline will be written.

Powell added it was probably a wise process to circle the bill and wait for further consideration.

Ray said the discussion whether to let political parties pick their nominees’ route to the primary election would have to be taken sooner or later.

“Why get beaten up” for several days over the decision, waiting until Wednesday or Thursday, make that decision now, said Ray.

But the majority voted 44-25 not to sneak by the major changes to SB54 with a half-hour notice, and Fawson’s attempt to gut the new candidate nominating law will have to wait for another day.