The Utah House on Wednesday voted to keep its promise on SB54 – the two-year-old law allowing candidates to take the petition route to their party’s primary election if they so choose.
Three GOP House members who voted for SB54 in the 2014 Legislature switched their votes Wednesday – breaking a promise made to the Count My Vote backers two years ago.
A motion Wednesday to gut SB54 with a substitute bill failed, 30-42, with three members absent.
It takes 38 votes in the 75-member House to pass a bill or a motion to substitute.
But not only did House Republicans vote down an attempt by Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, to gut the CMV/SB54 compromise, but they also did a favor for their Senate Republican colleagues by killing HB69 – the bill that could have served as a conduit for more SB54 shenanigans in the upper body.
Rep. Fred Cox’s original HB69 was seriously destroyed, 14-57, perhaps sending a message to Cox and any other SB54 detractors not to mess further with the CMV compromise this general session.
Through killing HB69 in the House, if any further attempt to gut SB54 is to be made in the Senate, another bill will have to be found by the CMV compromise opponents.
The three House Republicans who switched their pro-SB54 vote in 2014 to repeal the CMV compromise this year are Reps. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper; Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden; and David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain.
Lifferth’s back-pedaling was already known. Last year he attended an anti-SB54 press conference called by Utah Republican Party leaders and said he voted for SB54 believing it was unconstitutional and desired a court case to prove it.
Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, actually went the other way Wednesday. Back in 2014 Pitcher voted against SB54. But Wednesday he cast a vote to keep the CMV promised compromise.
In federal and state court, the Utah Republican Party seeks to vacate the SB54 dual-path to the primary option, maintaining that political parties are private organizations and the state can’t say how their nominees are picked.
The party wants only the historical delegate/convention route to the closed GOP primary – even though taxpayers pick up the $3 million cost of a party primary.
In debate Wednesday, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, noted that 46 other states currently decide who gets on a party’s primary ballot, paid for by taxpayers.
And Powell believes the state GOP will ultimately lose that battle in court – and the essential element of the SB54 compromise law, the candidate option signature petition option — will be upheld.
A number new House Republicans, not in office in 2014, tried to argue that any promise made back then doesn’t hold in the 2016 Legislature.
Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, said no future Legislature can be bound by a previous Legislature – which is legally accurate.
But do personal promises – made individually or as a group — mean anything?
House Speaker Greg Hughes recently told UtahPolicy they do, and he would vote against Fawson’s attempt to substitute anti-SB54 language into HB69, a so-called SB54 cleanup bill sponsored Cox.
“I’m a man of my word,” said Hughes.
Except for those three House members who Wednesday went back on their 2014 votes, the other GOP representatives did keep their word.
Here is the vote Wednesday to substitute Fawson’s bill into Cox’s original HB69. A “no” vote is a vote to keep SB54 intact.
Coleman said because membership has changed since 2014, and since a federal judge struck down parts of SB54, the votes back in 2014 don’t count anymore.
“This is not the same law” that was passed, she argued in favor of breaking any promises made back then.
But Powell said Wednesday’s vote to support Fawson was “momentous.”
More important than who voted how two years ago, what do the people of Utah want? Asked Powell.
It is evident to him, and should be clear to others, that Utahns want to decide for themselves in a primary election who should be on the November ballots.
Time and again – through polls and support for the CMV citizen initiative – “citizens have stated they prefer the changes in SB54,” said Powell.
Lifferth is running for the state Senate this year, and not gathering signatures, so must appear before a larger pool of state GOP delegates for his race.
Christensen, ironically, has signed up to gather 1,000 GOP voter signatures, which wouldn’t be allowed under Fawson’s substitute bill.
Peterson has not signed up for the signature route.
Should Christensen gather his signatures and turn them in, GOP delegates in his House District 32 could not kick him out of office in convention this spring.
Should Peterson file for re-election in March, he will only appear before his District 9 delegates, who will decide his fate in a spring convention.
Pitcher, who voted against SB54 in 2014, but for it Wednesday, has also signed up for the signature route in his House District 10, so if he qualifies via the petition route he can’t be eliminated from office by angry GOP delegates in his spring convention.