For us political commentators (a nice word for hacks), the controversy over Utah's caucus and convention system is the gift that keeps on giving. Whether the legislative SB54 compromise, the Count My Vote reform movement or the antics of anti-reform activists, the fun never ends. So here’s another installment on this never-ending saga.
In Tuesday’s primary elections, the top races are the Republican contests for the U.S. Senate between Gov. Mitt Romney and state Rep. Michael Kennedy, and the 3rd Congressional District race between incumbent John Curtis and former legislator Chris Herrod. Could these campaigns be another indicator of the demise of the convention system?
Pignanelli: "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.” — Winston Churchill
History is filled with legends of fanatical warriors who believe magical powers, derived from some cultish phenomenon, will prevent their death and overpower opponents with superior weapons. These crazies are always slaughtered because the cause is irrational or ancient, and thereby powerless.
GOP activists cling to the archaic delegate/convention system with the unrealistic belief they can triumph against the overpowering will of the electorate. As with most ultra-devotees to lost causes, they will eventually be defeated. Kennedy and Herrod were rewarded for fealty to the delegate diehards by placement on the ballot. But they are failing to raise significant contributions or broad-based support, heading to rout on Tuesday. They prove the general rule “convention only” primary candidates cannot attract money, recruit volunteers or capture serious attention from the media. They fall to opponents who enjoy wide affection, as evidenced by the signatures they gathered. “Convention only” contenders will increasingly reflect the fringe, whose weakness is directly correlated to their extremist fervor.
The last stands of zealots make for great stories, but never for practical results and victory.
Webb: Utah is a center-right state. As a mainstream conservative, I’d like to invite my far-right friends to accept the fact that signature-gathering is here to stay. I’d like them to think about being part of the mainstream Republican Party instead of being relegated to the fringe. Gov. Gary Herbert and others are encouraging GOP factions to work out differences and better unify as a party.
There is plenty of room in the Republican Party for robust debate over policy. Let’s have those debates and let the best argument win. But let’s not try to win using an unfair process that disadvantages one wing of the party. Win by persuasion, not by process.
Otherwise, mainstream Republicans, the majority, will simply ignore the party structure and raise money, run campaigns and establish policy independent of the formal party organization. It’s better to be in the room debating and influencing rather than conspiring futilely in the dark corners.
Some county Republican parties forced candidates into primaries even though these candidates received enough delegate votes to proceed directly to the general election. These candidates are the victims of extraordinary rules designed to punish candidates who gathered signatures, even though they also went through the caucus/convention system. Can this craziness continue?
Pignanelli: These bizarre antics in other regions demonstrate that Utah County does not possess a monopoly on nuttiness. Grumbling about reform is an annoying constitutional right. But party officials denigrate democracy with the silly rule that “convention only” candidates with an arbitrary vote percentage are automatically provided ballot placement. This finagling unfairly punishes qualified candidates with requisite signatures and a majority of delegate support. Utahns will not tolerate such corruption of the election process. Lawmakers can expect pressure from various sources (i.e. media, special interest groups, good government organizations, social media, etc.) to enact reforms.
Webb: These rules used by some county parties are unfair and deceitful, illustrating how far some party insiders are willing to go to desperately cling to power, even contradicting the will of their own delegates. It is truly destructive to the image and reality of the Republican Party. They are shouting to mainstream Utahns: “We don’t want you.”
Some convention system supporters are planning a legislative push to repeal SB54. Is this even a possibility?
Pignanelli: The existence of these rumors is incredible, but true. There are rumblings among officials to repeal SB54 because they believe a deal was broken. Such actions won’t go anywhere, but dust will be stirred in deliberations.
Webb: To paraphrase a favorite pledge: “They won’t take my power away until they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” Some arch-conservatives are desperately trying to hang on to control of the political process. But I believe enough state legislators like the option of gathering signatures to get on the primary ballot that they won’t repeal SB54. I’m also still hopeful the Utah Supreme Court will place the Count My Vote proposal on the ballot so voters can decide once and for all how they prefer the nomination process to work.