Utah citizens initiative petition drives pushing toward deadline
Proponents of boundaries, ethics push for signatures
Mike Terry, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — With one week left before 95,000 signatures are due, backers of two citizens initiative petitions admit it's touch and go whether they'll make the number.
"Even if we don't make it," said Glenn Wright of Fair Boundaries, "people will know how much dissatisfaction there is in large areas of the state over how (legislative and U.S. House) redistricting was done (by lawmakers) the last time. We've easily met our (signature) goals in a number of areas."
Utahns for Ethical Government Chairman Kim Burningham said "it is a nail-biter" whether his group will get the required 95,000 signatures statewide, with 10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts needed to get the petition on November's ballot.
"We are confident we will, but it will be close," he said. "We're going all out."
The petitions must be turned into local county clerks by April 15. They will review them to see if the signees really are registered voters in Utah.
The Fair Boundaries initiative would set up an independent redistricting commission to recommend to the 2011 Legislature how U.S. House, legislative and State School Board boundaries are set following this year's census.
The UEG petition deals with legislative ethics and campaigning, setting up an independent ethics commission, limiting campaign donations, adopting a strict code of conduct and banning lobbyist gifts, among other matters.
Burningham said UEG will conduct "robocalls" Friday and Saturday, with a taped recording of him asking people to go to selected local libraries between noon and 3 p.m. Saturday to sign the petitions.
"I don't know how many people we will be calling," he said. "It depends on our financial resources. We're spending every dime we have."
If either group falls short of the total number or 10 percent in 26 Senate districts, then the fight could be over.
If the numbers are reached — but barely — the battle may go on, both on the ground and in the courts. UEG has already said it will challenge in court Lt. Gov. Greg Bell's decision not to accept online petition signatures.
Both petitions are strongly opposed by the Utah Republican Party. And the GOP-dominated 2010 Legislature passed a bill that makes it easier for people to take their names off initiative petitions.
Signed by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, the new law, specially written to take effect before April 15, also gives the GOP or any other opponents of the initiatives 30 days to identify signees and contact them, asking them to take their names off the initiatives.
The hardest part of a Utah petition drive is not getting the 95,000 signatures. Rather, it is getting 10 percent of those voters in each of 26 of 29 Senate districts.
Utah GOP state Chairman Dave Hansen says if either initiative has close numbers in a few Senate districts, Republicans may target GOP members in those districts and ask them to take their names off the petitions. That could eliminate an initiative.
Hansen said the state party has no plans to actively oppose the initiatives over this final week of signature gathering. "We're too busy attending and organizing" the county and state conventions, he said.
While the state party may contact party members asking them to take their names off the petitions, Hansen said GOP candidates and delegates' support of the initiatives will not affect either their candidacies or their status as delegates.
"We would hope they would oppose" the initiatives, "but absolutely not" would any formal sanctions be taken against them, he said.
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