Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utahns rose to the challenge of self government last week. Attendance at both Democrat and Republican caucuses were several times larger than what had been experienced in recent years. This was a tribute to the conscientiousness of mainstream Utahns who, it turned out, needed only a little nudge to get involved in the political process.
And nudged they were. Part of that nudge came from the political parties themselves. It also came from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which owns this newspaper. It sent a letter to all Utah congregations encouraging members to attend the local precinct caucus meetings for the party of their choice. Additionally, numerous civic organizations and media outlets urged citizens to consider the importance of broad community participation at the caucus meetings. Research has shown that Utah's convention delegates, what one might call the motivated few, had tended to be unrepresentative of the parties as a whole. That disconnect might explain in part why some popular incumbents were ousted in recent years for their alleged lack of ideological purity.
Utahns won't know until the state party conventions later this year whether party dynamics will change because of last week's caucus attendance. Anecdotally, however, the people who attended seemed to represent a mix of opinions and preferences. That is as it should be in a democracy. If what happens at the conventions reflects that trend, the outcomes should be more representative of the state as a whole than conventions in recent years.
Utah's caucus system has come under criticism in recent years. Indeed, it seems a holdover from a bygone era, and its rules are loose enough to allow for irregularities. Some have suggested adopting changes that would allow candidates who can't survive the caucus/convention system to get on the ballot through a petition process. That is a method that still deserves careful consideration. But if last week's attendance becomes a trend, and if it grows even larger and more representative in coming years, changes may not be needed.
In this country, citizenship does not require political participation. But from the beginning of the republic, government has been established by, of and for the people, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln. Power percolates from the individual up to the government, and people collectively have the power to change things. Last week, Utahns provided a stunning example of how that concept can work. Our hope is that they also started a new tradition that will carry on through each subsequent election cycle.
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