Analysis: How Far Will the Utah GOP Go in the Fight Against SB54?

The Utah Republican Party is 0 for 3.

Three times at bat in Utah courts.

Three outs.

But the party bosses’ game over SB54 is still going. And will be for some time, maybe all the way to the 2018 general ballot and another Count My Vote citizen initiative petition.

To many it seems a waste of time, money and effort.

But GOP leaders don’t appear to view it that way.

Next stop: The April 23 State Republican Convention, where who knows what kind of bylaw or constitutional changes may await.

Since last fall, the state GOP has lost two federal lawsuits and a critical case before the Utah Supreme Court – which ruled Friday against the party, denying all of the party’s claims against SB54.

The party’s next move could be giving up for at least the 2016 elections, and follow SB54’s Qualified Political Party rules.

While there may be a glaring inconsistency internally, at least the party would stay out of court and the signature-gathering Republicans go to the late June GOP primary ballot.

The above inconsistency is that party bylaws say the ONLY way for a Republican candidate to get on the primary ballot is to get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote at the convention.

SB54’s signature-gathering route is outlawed by the party.

But Federal Judge David Nuffer says the signature course is constitutional.

Ironically, Nuffer ruled last week that the signature percentages are legal BECAUSE the party also has the caucus/delegate/convention route to the primary – and the C/C way is clearly constitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that SB54’s “plain” language says it is the candidate, not the party that can define the route to the ballot. And that the signature route is constitutional, and thus any candidate who gets the required number of signatures – certified by the Utah Elections Office – then goes to the party’s primary ballot.

In fact, the GOP’s only partial “win” in court – if you can call it that – was Nuffer’s previous ruling that the state, via SB54, can’t allow non-party members to vote in its primary election.

It is that ruling which, in some swing or Democratic-leaning districts, causes a GOP signature-gathering candidate to get what amounts to 50 percent or even more of the registered Republicans to sign his or her petition.

Yes, the Republican Party itself is making it harder for its own candidates to make it to the primary ballot.

Mark Thomas, director of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s Utah Election Office, says the federal and Supreme Court rulings last week “give certainty” to the signature-gathering candidates and the caucus/convention candidates alike.

Well, at least for now.

Because it well may be that Republican Party bosses, at the convention, decide to kick out of the party any candidate who takes the signature gathering route alone, or who takes both routes (as allowed under SB54), but doesn’t get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote at the convention.

And that, in turn, could follow with more lawsuits.

The poster boy for this – if indeed the party tries to kick out only the signature-gathering candidates – could be Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber.

Powell, as you can see here, has been certified by Cox in House District 54, having gotten the required 1,000 signatures.

Unlike most other GOP candidates this year, who chose the signature AND the caucus/convention route, Powell chose only the signature route.

So, according to the three court decisions and the Utah Election Office’s interpretations of SB54, Powell is certified to the June GOP primary ballot.

Nothing in the state GOP convention can stop that – or so says the judges and elections office.

We’ll see.

Tim Quinn, who declared to gather signatures AND to take the caucus/convention route, is challenging Powell within the GOP.

As of Friday, Quinn has turned in only 779 signatures, not the 1,000 required. But Quinn will appear on the April 23 District 54 convention ballot.

Current state GOP rules don’t allow Powell to go to the ballot. For he is not scheduled to be at the state convention, or be voted on by District 54 delegates.

What if the state party still puts Powell on the District 54 delegate ballot? Well, if he gets 40 percent of the vote or more, then he would go to the primary, even under internal party rules.

But if he didn’t get 40 percent of the vote, what then?

Or if Powell is not on the convention ballot, one assumes Quinn – being unchallenged in the convention – would be declared by delegates the District 54 GOP nominee.

Will Powell’s own state party – through another court case – try to keep Powell from the primary election ballot?

Chances are even that attempt would fail – for how could it otherwise with all these court cases upholding SB54?

This all sounds nuts. But it’s out there.

Also, should any signature-gathering candidate not get 40 percent of his delegates votes – but still be certified to the ballot via signatures – will the GOP refuse to give that candidate help in the primary campaign, GOP voter lists and such?

Or, will the party itself actually campaign against one of its own primary candidates – advocating for the candidate who went only through the caucus/convention process?

All this begs the question: At what point do more rational thinking Republican delegates say enough is enough – and stop any attempts by their party bosses from further fighting SB54?

How many more curve balls will Utah Republican Party bosses be throwing at SB54?

Or will they just call it a game and go on to the 2016 elections?

Even if the game is over for this season, there is always next year – and the 2017 GOP-controlled Legislature where no doubt more runs will be made at SB54 to repeal or substantially change the candidate election rules.