Powell Says He’ll Sue if GOP Tries to Keep Him Off the Ballot

Kraig PowellShould the Utah Republican Party, or one of its “official” nominees, file a new court case to keep a signature-bound candidate off of the June primary election ballot, at least one signature-certified candidate will go to court – Rep. Kraig Powell.

Powell, R-Heber, is not looking for a court fight. He would much rather avoid one.

But Powell is in a unique position: He is the only GOP legislative candidate who filed ONLY to run this year via the new SB54 signature-gathering route.

All the other dozens of Republican and Democratic candidates who decided to take the signature course also signed up to go before their party convention delegates – and so will be voted upon in this Saturday’s state Republican and Democratic conventions.

Friday night Federal Court Judge David Nuffer ruled against the Utah Republican Party in the second lawsuit the party has filed against SB54 – the compromise 2014 law that provides two routes for candidates to their party’s primary election.

Nuffer had asked the party if it would kick out of party membership candidates who didn’t get 40 percent of the delegate vote at the convention.

The Republican Party sidestepped that issue a bit, saying no one had been kicked out of the party as of April 11. But party leaders went on to say they could well kick out of membership those signature candidates, and then listed a way it would do that (through Roberts Rules of Order).

There is no way Powell can get at least 40 percent of his delegate vote, because he is taking only the signature route to the primary, and is bypassing the convention entirely – the only legislative Republican to do so.

In fact, the state party’s official agenda for Saturday lists no delegate vote in Powell’s District 54.

Powell faces fellow Republican Tim Quinn in the party’s primary.

Quinn signed up to run both as a signature candidate and to go through Saturday’s convention. But Quinn failed to get the 1,000 valid signatures of GOP voters in District 54.

Powell did get the 1,000 signatures and was certified to the primary ballot some time ago by the Utah Elections Office.

There is also a Democrat in the race, Rudi Kohler, leader of the Wasatch County Democrats.

So, if all goes as normal, Quinn will be named Saturday to the primary ballot by acclamation – because Powell is not in the convention.

It will then remain to be seen what kind of action state party leaders take against Powell.

The official party candidate sign-up sheet calls for each candidate to follow party “bylaws” and “processes.” If they don’t, they will be kicked out of the party:

“I understand that circumventing these party rules and processes will disqualify my party membership as a candidate” – the Republican’s candidate declaration reads.

If the state party formally kicks Powell out of membership, he told UtahPolicy: “I would not feel any need to respond, unless there was some court action sought officially to remove me from the (primary) ballot.”

Accordingly, Powell very well may find himself kicked out of the party, even though Nuffer, in his Friday decision, warned that any such action by a political party would be “invalid.”

Nuffer wrote in his opinion: The Republican Party “has apparently informed (party) candidates that “any person who seeks to avoid the convention selection process by declaring candidacy through the signature gathering process will be in violation of the party rules, and his or her membership [will be] revoked.””

Nuffer went on to opine: “the party may not enact rules or procedures contradictory to state regulation in the guise of membership regulation or control of internal procedure.

“For example, the stated party intention to ban a member from nomination if that member fails to secure at least 40% of the delegate vote at the convention is directly contrary to state law and is invalid.”

It appears Powell or some other GOP candidate that the party kicks out of membership would have a pretty good chance of winning a case if it were filed in federal court.

But it is unclear what party intentions may ultimately be.

Party Chairman James Evans did not return repeated calls for comment by UtahPolicy Monday and over the weekend.

In any case, Powell is not looking for trouble.

Should his own state party campaign against him, or deny him party resources – like GOP voter lists – Powell said he would look at those actions if and when they come.

“All sorts of things are said about candidates” in a campaign, Powell told UtahPolicy on Monday.

“If my GOP opponent (Quinn), or even the party, were to campaign against me because I took only the signature route – that would be one of many legitimate issues, and I would address it as part my campaign,” said Powell, who has taken any number of reform-minded paths in his Utah House work, including ethics and campaign changes.

Even though the specter of being kicked out of the Utah GOP by leaders hangs over his head, Powell said he will attend Saturday’s state convention.

He is, in fact, on the national delegate ballot. Powell is the volunteer head of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Utah campaign and is running to be a Utah GOP national delegate as a Kasich supporter.

Should Powell win a national delegate slot Saturday – and if later the state party kicks him out of membership and tries to stop him from being a delegate to the July national convention in Cleveland — Powell said he doesn’t know now how he would handle that.

“It is just conjecture at this point,” said Powell. “But it certainly would be ironic for the state party leaders to try to revoke the actions of their own (state) delegates in convention, wouldn’t it?”

Powell said he hopes the party leaders won’t try to kick him out of the party, and in his primary election against Quinn, leaders won’t try to harm his chances by denying him party resources.

“I will have to see what (party leaders) try to do” in the House District 54 primary race.

“I would hope there is enough room in the Utah Republican Party for disagreement about this (SB54 dual route) issue,” said Powell.

“I am just following state law (SB54). And I was glad to hear (in the media) that the state party will follow state law in this case,” said Powell.