As we’ve moved past the county conventions and head into the state conventions and then the June primary, watch how GOP legislative candidates are defining themselves.

 

This may be the last election in Utah where nearly – if not all – say they are “conservatives,” or “right of center conservatives,” or “traditional conservatives.”

Come 2016, you may actual hear a few GOP candidates saying the are “mainstream conservatives,” or even “moderate conservatives.”

Yes, the term “moderate” may come back into vogue.

Moderate didn’t used to be a swear word in Utah, nor in many other states.

There were “moderate” Republican officeholders in New York, Illinois, even in California.

Ronald Reagan could have been considered a “moderate” governor in California under today’s definitions of conservatives.

In Utah, Mike Leavitt and Jon Huntsman Jr. would fit that definition during their gubernatorial terms, as well. (Although both men would likely prefer the term “mainstream” Republican.)

In the 1990s, a group of rural Utah House Republicans started what they called the Cowboy Caucus.

It reached maybe 20 members – with a few urban Republicans with rural roots joining in.

As the Cowboy Caucus gained more and more power, a more moderate group of House Republicans started their own caucus – calling it the “Mainstream Caucus.”

(The media called it the moderate caucus.)

Like the Cowboys, the MCs had a number of issues in common – mainly their desire to better fund public education.

I remember interviewing one of the founders of the Mainstream Caucus, Greg Curtis, who later would become speaker.

He numbered the MCs at around 17 to 20 members of the overall House GOP caucus. And a few had major committee and budget chairmanships.

Today there is the Conservative Caucus, which has taken over a number of the Cowboy Caucus goals – like getting state control of federal lands in Utah.

There is no Mainstream Caucus among House Republicans any more.

In large part because here are hardly any “mainstream” – or moderate -- Republicans in the Utah House.

While he may not describe himself this way, certainly a more moderate House Republican was kicked out of his job this past week.

Rep. Jim Bird, R-South Jordan, supported public education funding and was often a moderating voice in the 61-member House GOP caucus.

Bird was eliminated by Kim Coleman, a political consultant and grass-roots GOP worker. It is general assumed, I’m told, that Coleman is a bit to the right of Bird.

This follows an ongoing trend of election after election conservatives replacing moderate incumbents.

I harken back to four years ago when archconservative Ken Ivory took out Steve Mascaro in southern Salt Lake County. Mascaro was clearly more moderate than Ivory, who is leading the effort of states rights in the Legislature.

In any case, come 2016 and the new party candidate nominations of SB54, in some Salt Lake County races you could see “mainstream” or “moderate” GOP candidates self-defining themselves that way.

There are few Democratic blue House and Senate districts in Utah.

But if you are a Republican candidate running in one of those, you might be wise – in the final election – to actually campaign on a platform of moderation.

Support enhanced public education funding.

Equal rights for gays and lesbians, including civil unions (if not actual marriage).

Real action on bettering air quality.

Fight to get control of federal lands, yes, but also reasonable and responsible land management thereafter.

And don’t just look for “moderate” Republican candidates in 2016.

Democratic legislative candidates running in GOP areas would be smart to push their “moderate” and “mainstream” credentials, as well.

The kick on well-liked Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, was that you could “trust” him. Read that to mean he would vote like a moderate Republican much of the time – and he did, various vote-comparison surveys have shown.

With the dual-track candidate nomination route under SB54, in 2016 both moderate Republican and Democratic candidates can bypass their more ideologically-pure party convention delegates and get on their party’s primary ballot via a voter signature petition drive.

Thus, “moderate” GOP and Democratic candidates don’t have to face delegates who could dump them for not supporting guns and God in the Republican convention, or gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights in the Democratic convention.

A main goal of Count My Vote supporters was, all along, to moderate the Utah Legislature – especially on the Republican side.

But in that process, we may well see candidates for the Legislature welcome back into their lexicon the words “moderate” and “mainstream.”

Maybe some day soon there will even be an M&M caucus in the Utah House.

And they could serve some tasty little chocolate candies in their meetings.