Utahns are split over whether the state Constitution should be changed to allow legislators to call themselves into a special session, a new UtahPolicy.com poll shows.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds:

  • 47 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” favor the constitutional amendment which will be on November’s ballot for voters to accept or reject.

  • 41 percent oppose the change.

  • And 12 percent don’t know.

So, clearly at this point, the vote on the proposed amendment could go either way.

 

The change comes over a disagreement between GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in 2017.

As you may remember, Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the state’s official election officer, refused to call lawmakers into a special session the spring of that year so legislators could set the rules for a special U.S. House election in the 3rd District, as then-GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz prepared to resign.

Republican lawmakers wanted, it is said, to have the GOP 3rd District delegates decide who would be the party’s nominee in the special election.

While Herbert and Cox decided on their own that candidates could take either the delegate/convention route or gather voter signatures to make their party’s primary ballot – as current regular election rules require.

The difference turned out to be decisive.

The district, very Republican in nature, saw Republican delegates pick archconservative Chris Herrod in convention. In that convention, delegates eliminated then-Provo Mayor John Curtis.

But Curtis also gathered signatures to make the primary, where he crushed Herrod and another GOP candidate, on his way to win the special election last year.

Under the current Constitution, only the governor calls special sessions; only he sets the agenda.

So by not calling the special session last year, we got not the conservative Herrod as the U.S. House member, but the more moderate Curtis.

In a rematch this year, Curtis beat Herrod in convention, and then crushed him in a June primary to win the GOP nomination again. Curtis is the heavy favorite to win re-election in November.

Republican legislative leaders took several steps in the 2018 January-March general session to blunt the governor’s powers, including passing the amendment (with two-thirds votes in both houses).

The amendment would allow a super-majority of House and Senate members to call themselves into a special session under certain conditions.

Herbert openly opposes the amendment, and hopes citizens will vote it down.

Jones’ poll shows the amendment is vulnerable to defeat – with no special interest groups yet coming forth to favor or oppose it.

Jones finds that various demographic groups are also split on the amendment:

  • Republicans are in favor of it, 47-42 percent, with 11 percent undecided.

  • Democrats favor it, 49-44 percent, with 9 percent undecided.

  • Political independents back it, 49-35 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

  • Those who told Jones they are “very conservative” politically favor giving the Legislature the power to call themselves into session, 48-40 percent.

  • Those who are “somewhat conservative” oppose the change, 48-40 percent.

  • “Moderates” are against it, 48-45 percent.

  • The “somewhat liberal” Utahns want the change, 59-38 percent.

  • While the “very liberal” folks favor it, 55-29 percent.

You can read the amendment here.

It says, among other things, that legislative leaders can call a special session only if two-thirds of members of the House and Senate agree to the call.

Jones polled 615 adults from May 15-25. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.