Pignanelli and Webb: How some legislation and political races are intertwined

Two big items on the political radar are attracting a great deal of attention. One is the maneuvering for the 2020 gubernatorial election and other races. The other is SB54 and the increasing effort to repeal it. SB54 is the compromise legislation that allows candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary election ballot, instead of being forced to go through the caucus/convention system. Interestingly, the current election posturing and the fight over SB54 are closely related. We take a look.

At the same time a long list of ambitious politicos are considering running for governor and other offices, attacks on SB54 are increasing. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee wants the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. Sen. Dan McCay, an original co-sponsor of SB54, now plans to run legislation to repeal it. What’s happening here?

Pignanelli: “It's a big challenge not to murder each other … I mean, we're family so we fight.” — Sharon Corr

As the proud son of an Italian father and an Irish mother, I possess deep expertise of dramatic family squabbles plagued with grudges, perceived offenses, petty bickering, legal actions and decades of ill will among relatives. The emotional non-ideological internal strife among Utah Republicans qualifies as a family fight.

In 2014, Sen. McCay persuaded his colleagues to support SB54 armed with the promise by Count My Vote, or CMV, proponents they would not seek another initiative. The Legislature upheld their commitment by debating, but never passing, any changes to the compromise. McCay’s labeling of the 2016 CMV ballot attempt as a betrayal is understandable and factual — providing rationale behind his repeal.

CMV struggled with both initiatives, indicating ambivalence among many Utahns. Conversely, activists are frightened of diminished relevancy in the party and view CMV as Utah's elite making a power grab at their expense. They maintain a drumbeat of opposition. Fatigue is infecting politicians and frustration is percolating.

I discovered family reunions replete with multiple toasts among warring cousins, enhanced by wine and whiskey, can soothe feelings. I am happy to bring such refreshments to the next GOP gathering.

Webb: It is a fact that Utahns of all political persuasions overwhelmingly support SB54 and Count My Vote. The actions of the politicians and party insiders who want to control the nomination process themselves, rather than allow all voters to have a say, are a precise demonstration of elitism and political snobbery.

I prefer not to ascribe self-serving motives to the politicians who are enemies of SB54, but it is clear they want to campaign among a small number of delegates to win party nominations, rather than have to face Republican voters in general.

In 2014, Count My Vote agreed to end the ballot initiative campaign in exchange for the passage of SB54, ensuring a dual-path party nomination process. There was no agreement regarding any future ballot initiative. To assert otherwise is pure fiction.

What would be the impact on upcoming political races if SB54 is repealed?

Pignanelli: A repeal definitely changes the flavor of 2020 elections — especially the governors race. There would be déjà vu of 2012 when massive resources from the Orrin Hatch campaign were targeted towards changing GOP delegates. Because so many candidates will be attempting the same objective next year, those who throw the hardest punches are likely to succeed. A rightward tilt will result. Consequently, large donors may extract uncomfortable promises from candidates to detail a public position on restoring SB54.

Webb: Without SB54 and the opportunity for all voters to be part of the nomination process, a number of mainstream GOP candidates would never make it through the convention — despite having broad voter support. It has been conclusively proven that convention delegates often do not reflect the candidate preferences of most Republican Party voters.

Congressman John Curtis, for example, would have been ousted by delegates and would not be in office today had he not been able to gather signatures to get on the ballot. I could list a half dozen excellent mainstream candidates who probably would be rejected at convention, where ideological purity is demanded and litmus tests prevail. It would be a travesty to deny these candidates a spot on the primary election ballot.

Will the Count My Vote coalition put up a fight to save SB54?

Pignanelli: Utah's business and community leaders will reach out to key lawmakers, and will be impactful. But the best champion in support of the current system is the individual Utahns overwhelmingly trust Gov. Gary Herbert. A balanced but firm statement from him could cause a ripple among traditional and social media, which lawmakers would feel.

Webb: Now that most Utahns, and certainly mainstream Republicans, have enjoyed a few election cycles in which the tyranny of the caucus/convention system has been broken, there is no going back. I detect enormous passion and commitment among mainstream business and political leaders to fight to protect SB54 and the right for all votes to be counted. What’s more, if SB54 was somehow repealed, a mass defection from the Republican Party would occur, putting in doubt the re-election of Sen. Lee. And Rep. McCay would have no chance of defeating Congressman Ben McAdams.