Since the 2014 Utah Legislature passed SB54, I have written I-don’t-know-how-many columns saying this may be the end of this issue.
And it never was.
This thing has now dragged on for more than five years, five court decisions, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. All upheld SB54.
It has bankrupted the Utah Republican Party, which would have been an unthinkable occurrence just five years ago when the party was one of the most dominant state political organizations in America.
We’ve seen several attempts in the Utah Legislature to repeal it, all unsuccessful. GOP Gov. Gary Herbert has promised to veto any repeal that passes.
We’ve seen two sitting state GOP chairs – James Evans and Rob Anderson – driven from office as they tried to deal with the so-called Gang of 51 and their supporters, diehards who have battled the state law since it was adopted as a compromise with the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition backers.
We’ve seen Count My Vote suspend a petition drive after the 2014 Legislature – reading the petition’s popularity in the polls – made the SB54 compromise.
We’ve seen Count My Vote spend millions of dollars getting their petition on the 2018 ballot, only to have the Gang’s counter-revolution Keep My Vote effort get several hundred rural Republicans take their names off of the CMV petition – thus keeping the popular petition off the ballot. (Another court battle, lost by CMV in the Utah Supreme Court.)
And this spring, in GOP county and state conventions, we’ve seen a concerted effort by “mainstream” Republicans, including Herbert, to drive Gang of 51 backers out of party leadership positions.
An attempt that worked, with county chairs opposed to the bitter party infighting winning their races, and the Gang of 51 being reduced to perhaps only 20 members on the GOP State Central Committee, out of 187 voting members.
So can I write, REALLY, a column saying that the fight over SB54 within the Utah Republican Party is finally over?
And maybe this column is it.
This week UtahPolicy.com reported that newly-elected state GOP chair Derek Brown, a party insider/mainstream conservative, will decline Gang of 51 leader Dave Bateman’s offer to give $100,000 to “bail” the party out of debt, first incurred in and prior to 2017, when Evans was running the party and couldn’t get traditional big-money donors to contribute any more.
They refused to financially support a party that was trying to overturn SB54 – which the mainstream insiders actually liked because it provided an alternative (signature) route by candidates to party primaries.
The mainstreamers were tired of seeing good candidates defeated in county and state GOP conventions by right-wing delegates.
The resulting right-wing GOP candidates were winning general elections and politically warping the Legislature and Utah’s congressional delegation.
Perfect examples: GOP Gov. Olene Walker losing in the 2004 state GOP convention and U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett losing in the 2010 convention.
Herbert and Brown, among others, now say the SB54 battle inside the Utah Republican Party is over – if the much-weakened Gang of 51 wish to continue this fight they must do it in the Legislature or before the public.
Herbert, Brown and others say it is now up to the party itself to much improve the caucus/delegate/convention process, where today you have caucus-picked delegates secretly voting in the convention for candidates – and thus having no real accountability or transparency to the caucus rank-and-file register Republicans who elected them.
You also have around 60,000 to 80,000 rank-and-file party members attending the March caucuses to pick delegates, when there are 650,000 registered Republicans, who if they wish, can vote for themselves on signature-gathering or convention GOP candidates in primaries under SB54.
Hardly a fair representation found in the caucus turnout or an accountable delegate voting.
Poll after poll after poll, many of them conducted by UtahPolicy.com, over recent years show most Utahns, even most Republican Utahns, like SB54 and want to keep it.
Please, let this be the last SB54 column I have to write.
This horse is dead. Beating it won’t help. You can’t lead it to water. And you can’t make it drink.