Years ago, after a crummy meal at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in Chicago, a fortune cookie provided some of the best advice I have received about politics. It read: “If you don’t get everything you want, think of the things that you don’t get that you don’t want.” For those on both sides of the Count My Vote vs. caucus fight here in Utah who are deeply upset by the compromise put forward by Sen. Curt Bramble in Second Substitute Senate Bill 54, this is good counsel.
I personally believe that Utah’s existing caucus system, while perhaps in need of a few tweaks to increase participation, is the ideal electoral system, requiring candidates for political office to campaign at a grass-roots level, meeting face-to-face with locally elected party delegates to make their case before heading to a primary or general election ballot. It is a system that has served Utah well for decades. I support it wholeheartedly and will continue to recommend and advocate its virtues.
That said, and as distressing as it is to me, the supporters of the Count My Vote initiative do not feel the same way and are making a persuasive case to donors and citizens alike that the caucus system should be scrapped in favor of direct primary elections. From my vantage point, it appears that there is a better than 50/50 chance that, barring legislative intervention, Count My Vote will qualify for the November ballot and be voted into law.
Sen. Bramble, who I admire for his tenacity and willingness to take on tough issues, brought forward SB54 in an effort to find middle ground between the political parties and the Count My Vote proponents. After weeks of heated negotiations, Sen. Bramble and other legislative leaders reached a compromise with the Count My Vote organizers that shelves direct primaries, keeps the caucus system in place, but allows for an alternate path to a primary election ballot. While I much preferred the original version of SB54, which kept party caucuses as the exclusive mechanism to make it to a primary ballot, I am pleased that the Legislature is unwilling to risk the complete dismantling of the caucus system by rolling the dice on the success or failure of the Count My Vote initiative. Playing “zero sum game” politics is an exceptionally risky, even reckless, strategy.
Over the politically polarizing last few years, the word “compromise” — once considered an admirable skill possessed by the greatest of statesmen — has, for some, become the deadliest of political sins. But compromise, as defined by the dictionary as “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions,” is the connective tissue that knits together societies of diverse individuals with differing values, beliefs and interests. (It was the Great Compromise of 1787, after all, that yielded our incomparable Constitution.) The art of compromise, in its truest sense, has nothing to do with betraying your principles but finding a way to advance them. Sen. Bramble’s bill is an attempt to do just that.
On a final note, many opponents of SB54 are troubled by the potentially unconstitutional intervention of the Legislature and/or the Count My Vote initiative on the inner workings of political parties. I too share this concern, and believe that Utah’s political parties should file suit to challenge SB54 on freedom of association grounds. Even so, I still hope to see SB54 passed and signed into law. I would much rather end up with an “all or something” scenario in challenging SB54 in court than an “all or nothing” scenario in challenging the Count My Vote initiative.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and former U.S. Senate candidate.