Utah Capitol 06

One of the leading critics of the SB54 dual-path for candidates to reach the primary ballot says he is abandoning his efforts to overturn the law this year. 

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, told UtahPolicy.com on Wednesday he will not run a bill to repeal the law this session. Instead, he wants to let the Supreme Court decide whether they will take up an appeal over the constitutionality of the law.

The SB54 compromise allows candidates to gather signatures to get on the ballot, go through the traditional caucus/convention system, or utilize both.

“I think we need to let the courts decide the issue,” he said. Before the session, McCay said he would run legislation to repeal the law.

A group of Utah GOP hardliners on the party central committee has pursued a years-long battle against the dual-track system, nearly bankrupting the party in the process.

Utah Republicans have appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court after losing several federal court battles. We could know whether the high court will take up the appeal to as soon as March 1 as the justices are expected to discuss the case at their weekly conference that day.

McCay says he wants to let the court decision, one way or the other, settle before taking any further action on the bill.

Getting the bill out of the Senate this year would have been a long-shot for McCay. Senate sources say it was “highly unlikely” that a repeal of the dual-path system would pass that body this year.

The House may be more receptive to a legislative challenge of SB54 this year, and one could still come from that body now that McCay is dropping his efforts. However, the deadline to request legislation has passed and any lawmaker attempting to introduce a repeal bill would have to get permission from the rest of the body.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told UtahPolicy.com on Wednesday that a repeal bill would have a good chance of passing there this year.

Repeal of SB54 “has passed here several times before,” said Wilson. And even though there are 20 new House members this session, and he hasn’t asked them their opinions on SB54, the same sentiment held before likely would prevail.

In the unlikely event that a repeal bill was to make it to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk, chances are that’s where it would stop. Herbert has repeatedly said he wants to wait to see how the Utah Republican Party’s SB54 appeal is handled in the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is anticipated the U.S. Supreme Court will decline to hear the case since it has previously ruled that states have the power to determine how candidates can get on a party’s public-paid-for primary election ballot. But it only takes four out of the nine high justices to decide to hear arguments in front of the full court, so who knows what will happen.

The GOP internal fighting over SB54 has basically bankrupted the Utah Republican Party, which continues to struggle in fundraising. The infighting has led to all kinds of hassles, including some members of the party’s state Central Committee trying to kick party chairman Rob Anderson out of that office, restrict party membership, and generally harming the public’s opinion of the party’s activities. Anderson ran for office in 2017 vowing to drop the legal challenge against SB54 because of the financial toll it has taken on the party. He was rebuffed by the GOP Central Committee, who continued to press forward with the challenge.

McCay says he’s more worried that if the legislature were to attempt another repeal, Count My Vote would launch another ballot initiative ahead of the 2020 election. Opponents barely stopped Count My Vote from reaching the ballot in the 2018 election by convincing a handful of Utahns in certain Senate districts to remove their names from the petition. He thinks it's best to callcease-fireire on the contentious issue.

“Let’s let the parties and courts settle this instead of another initiative on this issue,” said McCay.