My view: A 'good old boy' system

By Gerald Nebeker

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

This May 18, 2013, file photo, shows people looking on during the Utah Republican Party's annual organizing convention, in Sandy, Utah. Utah Republicans pushing for reforms in their state caucus and convention system say they're moving forward with a plan to put an initiative before voters next year. Prominent Republicans in the group "Count My Vote" are planning an initiative allowing candidates to make a primary ballot with signatures instead of convention nominations.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The neighborhood caucus system is under attack. I have been a part of that system as a precinct chair, vice chair, state delegate and county delegate. I’m currently serving as a precinct chair (for the second time) and also as a county delegate.

Accordingly, I have witnessed firsthand the problems with this approach in determining whose names go on the ballot for one party or another. Those in support of the caucus system believe that it is superior to any other system because it allows anyone to run for office and that the informed few will make a better choice than the uninformed masses. They feel that the primary election approach, where everyone gets to vote, allows too much influence over elections by corporations and special-interest groups with lots of money. In truth, there are potential problems with any system.

The current system got rid of Bob Bennett and almost got rid of Orrin Hatch. Neither Dan Liljenquist nor Orrin Hatch received 60 percent of the votes at convention (59 percent Hatch, 41 percent Liljenquist); therefore, a primary election was required. Hatch won. One percentage point more and Hatch would have won at convention, avoiding a need for a primary. I’m surprised that he didn’t, given what went on in the neighborhood caucuses.

In 2010, we had a caucus turnout of 59 people. Only 47 stayed to vote for delegates. In 2012, we had 104 in attendance — a 76 percent increase — due to Orrin Hatch’s efforts to win the election at caucus. We have approximately 1,150 voters in our precinct with about 50 percent registered as Republican. Caucus turnout in 2012 represented about 18 percent compared to 8 percent in 2010. I was nominated as a state delegate along with 15 others.

Our precinct was allocated four state delegate positions, based on prior election turnout. I made the mistake of responding to a question about Hatch’s re-election by saying that it was probably time that he retire since he was initially elected on the basis that Frank Moss had been in office for too long.

With 16 nominees there was no time to discuss the state of the nation; the state of the state; or the principles, ideals and values that should influence the votes cast at the State Nominating Convention. In theory, those elected as delegates should go from caucus and diligently investigate each candidate (as the representatives of our precinct) so that they can cast an informed, representative vote at the State Nominating Convention.

In truth, the delegates were elected based on whom they were already supporting. If I could recruit enough people who agreed with my views on candidates to attend caucus and vote for me as a delegate, I could go to convention and influence the outcome of the election.

I do not believe that the small percentage of people who attend caucus meetings is a true representation of the 1,150 voters in my precinct. The caucus system is a “good old boy” approach to politics where a few people control the outcome. I am in total agreement with former Rep. Jim Hansen who said, “Let’s get rid of the caucus system.” It’s time to give the elections back to “we the people” by supporting open primaries.

Frankly, I trust all the people more than I trust some of the people. Accordingly, I would encourage you to support the “Count My Vote” initiative.

Gerald Nebeker is a retired financial controller. He has been involved in the political process for many years as an elected official and a concerned citizen. He currently serves as his area's precinct chairman.

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