Bernick Mug 01

Will the re-election of one high Utah official pave the way for denying voters the possibility of electing more moderate or “mainstream” Republicans to office?

That is the heart of a renewed effort -- first reported by UtahPolicy.com on Thursday -- to change the current candidate dual-pathway law, better known as SB54.

Seems U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is worried about being challenged in the 2022 primary by a wealthy, well-funded moderate Republican. Lee has been active on social media calling for the repeal of SB54 -- which if it happens would allow him to be picked by GOP state convention delegates in two years.

And Lee’s minions, UtahPolicy.com is told, are working hard behind the scenes in this Legislature’s general session to push through a change to SB54 that, in essence, is a repeal of the much-liked signature-gathering provision that allows a candidate to ignore right-wing party delegates, and make the ballot via gathering voter signatures.

Lee faced some “mainstream” GOP insider opposition when he ran for re-election in 2016. But he was able to meet with some Republicans who were looking to back a challenger to Lee, and dissuade them.

Lee didn’t receive significant intra-party opposition and was easily sent back to a second, six-year term.

But with the dislike in Utah of GOP President Donald Trump, whom Lee has backed strongly, there’s the chance that in a post-Trump era (assuming Trump loses re-election this year), more moderate GOP Utahns, if not necessarily anti-Trumpers, could see an opening in defeating Lee in two years.

Of course, the anti-SB54ers deep inside the Republican Party ranks are still looking for ways to thwart SB54, even without Lee’s efforts.

They bankrupted the state party in their court fights.

Then they got a right-wing sugar daddy to fund the appeals to the U.S Supreme Court over SB54 -- where they lost last year.

Newly-elected state GOP chairman Derek Brown battled the old-guard of his Central Committee and seems to have won a stalemate.

Brown and other more reasonable party leaders have agreed to end the SB54 fight within the party structure -- with GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Brown saying any future SB54 battles need to take place in the Legislature, not inside the party.

So that is what is happening now behind the scenes among Republicans in the state Senate and House -- and will play out over the next 45 days.

So we need to ask, do GOP legislators care so much about Mike Lee and other hard-right officeholders that they are willing to dump a compromise candidate nomination law that polls show Utahns really like?

Even more to the point, are GOP lawmakers -- many of whom are gladly gathering signatures this year to ensure they make their closed Republican June primary -- willing to anger not only their own party’s rank-and-file, which has embraced SB54 but political independents and Democrats who favor the dual-track primary process even more than do partisan Republicans?

We’ve just seen a tax reform revolt among many voters, including, by the way, some hardliner Republican partisans who hate SB54.

We’ve seen Herbert and GOP lawmakers change two citizen initiative petitions approved by voters just last November.

We’ve witnessed, once again, a GOP majority in the Legislature make decisions that appear to some as arrogance -- even if others saw some benefit in the tax reform package as passed in December.

The gutting of SB54 as reported by UtahPolicy.com really has one goal -- to allow GOP insiders to outlaw signature-gathers from advancing to the party’s closed primary election -- which, by the way, is paid for by ALL taxpayers, whether Republicans or not.

As it stands now, the only person who may stop the destruction of SB54 this year is Herbert, who is on the record as opposing the repeal of the measure.

But Herbert will be gone come the 2021 Legislature.

Assuming the gutting of SB54 doesn’t happen this Legislature, we need to know where the Republican candidates for governor this year stand on the dual-pathway law -- for almost surely one of them will sit in Herbert’s seat next general session.

Will the new governor and 2021 Legislature bend to the will of powerful right-wing Republican officeholders who fear challenges from the GOP middle in 2022?

We’ll see.