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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Weighing the effects of the Republican State Convention

Published: Sunday, May 26 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Delegate Josh Melessa of Washington County raises his hand before voicing his opinion during the Utah Republican Party's annual organizing convention in Sandy, Utah on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

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At the recent Republican State Convention, delegates rejected reforms designed to open the caucus/convention nominating system to broader participation.

Why did convention delegates reject these changes recommended by party leadership?

Pignanelli: "Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power." — George Bernard Shaw

Ultra right-wing extremists share the personality traits of most teenagers (i.e. selfish priorities, unrealistic expectations, focus on minutia, etc.) When I confront the adolescents in my home about the family room mess, the following responses are given: "There is no mess"; "It's not my mess"; "I don't have to clean up the mess ... you're not the boss of me." Confronted with mild options to alter the nomination process, Republican delegates responded in the same manner: "There are no problems, when we control the results"; "Our ideological demands do not cause difficulties"; "We have no obligation to fix the system ... you're not the boss of us."

Individually, most delegates are nice people. But when packed together, a terrible herd mentality takes over. Without any concern to damaging the Republican brand, angry rhetoric and thoughtless actions ensue (i.e., disparaging the noble and visionary Utah Compact on Immigration). In such conditions, there is little enlightenment to abandon their power for the benefit of the party.

Webb: Political power in Utah is manifested most fundamentally in the caucus/convention system. A relatively small number of party activists wield enormous power in selecting candidates, and thus disproportionately influence public policy — and not many of them want to share that power among all Republican voters.

Delegates are mostly fine people who are sometimes more passionate and extreme in their political views than Republicans in general. Some, unfortunately, have even stated in public meetings that they don't want increased participation in the political process. They believe they are better informed, have the right answers, and they don't want anyone but themselves selecting candidates or influencing public policy. I believe that attitude is elitist and arrogant, and I trust Utahns, in general, not just activists, to make wise candidate and policy choices.

What's next? Will the Count My Vote group proposing reforms resort to a ballot initiative and will this effort be successful? (Ballot measures don't have a strong record of success.)

Pignanelli: Utahns want changes to the current system, but only a handful will sacrifice a Saturday in front of a grocery store to gather petition signatures. Many affluent Utahns hate the delegate process but few will contribute serious money to the effort (at least $400,000 will be needed to pay professional signature gatherers). Further, legal obstacles for initiatives are so burdensome that there is no realistic chance of success for any effort. The signature requirement is a logistical nightmare: 10 percent of the presidential voter turnout in 26 of 29 Senate districts.

I commend the Count My Vote effort, but there is no chance for success. If proven wrong in 2014, I shall proclaim in this column that LaVarr is the smartest and most erudite person on the planet, and then I will eat the printed pages of this column.

Webb: Frank's pledge, alone, makes this effort worthwhile. I have been involved in the Count My Vote initiative for several months. Our desire is to increase participation in the political process. We have worked closely with concerned and supportive party leaders. We have also consulted with a number of sympathetic state legislators, who all said they saw little chance of reforms being approved by lawmakers.

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