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Natalie Gochnour: Who are the real heroes of election reform?

Published: Friday, March 7 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Updated: Friday, Aug. 8 2014 12:26 p.m. MDT

When it comes to representative democracy, the job is never done. The baton is now in the hands of Utah voters. It’s time to show up or this major policy battle will have been for naught.

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This week, the Utah Legislature passed landmark legislation that will improve and modernize Utah’s election system. The compromise negotiated by Sen. Curt Bramble and Rep. Dan McCay preserves Utah’s caucus-convention system, institutes a direct primary option, and opens primaries to non-affiliated voters. The result is an election system that will be far more open and expand choices for candidates and voters. The legislation will do much to improve Utah’s abysmal voter participation, which has fallen to one of the bottom 10 states in the nation.

So who are the real heroes in this principled compromise?

Signers of the petition and volunteers — Without the signatures and the volunteers, nothing would have happened. Count My Vote principals had been in discussions with elected leaders since 2009. Both major political parties turned down Count My Vote reforms last year. It took a ballot initiative for reform to happen. The process worked and we owe a debt of gratitude to the volunteers and the more than 100,000 Utah voters who signed the petition.

Curt Bramble — Sen. Bramble served as the kingpin to forge this compromise. It’s no surprise to those who know him well. When you visit his office there is a framed poster of him dressed as a Sylvester Stallone look alike with the word “BRAMBO” in large letters. This guy gets things done. He combines his considerable policymaking skills and uncommon diplomacy to resolve difficult issues. Utah is fortunate to have such a skilled lawmaker on Capitol Hill.

Gail Miller — What’s not to love about a woman who is raising her family, running several major business enterprises and building a better Utah. Miller could be spending her time relaxing. Instead, she spends her time giving. She lives by the mantra of her late husband … go about doing good until there’s too much good in the world.

Rich McKeown — This former chief of staff of the Utah governor’s office, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services showed us he has what it takes to lead a major community endeavor. He skillfully led the Count My Vote signature gathering, fundraising and legislative negotiations. Let’s hope he continues to lend public service.

Dan McCay — Rep. McCay carried the legislation in the House, a task that was not for the faint of heart. He’s a true believer in the current system, but recognized the political realities of the initiative petition. If carried out it would have doomed the caucus-convention system. He didn’t want that and saw the agreed upon legislation as a way to both preserve and improve our system.

Mike Leavitt — Utah’s former three-term governor rarely speaks out on state issues out of respect for current office holders. He stepped up on Count My Vote because of his commitment to the state. The same guy that led Utah into the information age has now helped modernize our election system. This will be yet another part of his incredible legacy of service.

Norma Matheson — Utah’s former first lady made clear this was a bipartisan movement. She also continually praised and thanked the volunteers. The Matheson name continues to be a Utah treasure.

Gov. Gary Herbert — Herbert made it clear “he’s a caucus guy,” but still showed his strength by making it known early he would veto legislation that silenced the voice of the people. The most popular governor in the country just got more popular.

Lane Beattie — The leader of Utah’s largest business organization once again proved he’s the best three-point buzzer beater in the league because he scores wins for the community. He convened the negotiations and kept everyone at the table. I’ve worked with Beattie for years and seen his magic. He did it again.

Utah’s new election reforms will need continual monitoring and improvement. When it comes to representative democracy, the job is never done. The baton is now in the hands of Utah voters. It’s time to show up or this major policy battle will have been for naught. Attend your political caucus meetings this month and vote in primary and general elections. It’s not just your right; it’s your responsibility.

The Democrat caucus will be on March 18 and Republican caucus will be on March 20. For more information or to look up your precinct location and time, visit the Republican Party website utgop.org or the Democratic Party website utahdemocrats.org.

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.

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