Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Count My Vote: Exploring the impact of compromise legislation

Published: Sunday, March 9 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

The Utah Capitol Building in Salt Lake City.

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Both of us have spent many years following and participating in Utah politics. (Yes, we know … this is a sad statement.) If the political parties adopt the reforms in the “compromise legislation” — approved by Count My Vote (CMV) and passed by the Legislature — the change in how parties pick their nominees will be very significant.

We explore the impact.

Is the compromise superior or inferior to the CMV petition and the legislation sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble?

Pignanelli: “Democracy is always an unfinished experiment, testing the capacity of each generation to live freedom nobly.” ― George Weigel

The movement to topple, or at least change, Utah’s unique nomination process structure is unstoppable. This “JELL-O Revolution” to wrest political control from party activists has quiet support among many Utahns. Bramble’s original legislation — reflecting this emotion — was an elegant, simple solution that enhanced the advantages of the delegate system while fostering moderation.

Conversely, the compromise is complicated and problematic (Drafters agree kinks will need to be worked out in the next legislative session). Candidates can secure a nomination either through a convention, or by obtaining a requisite number of signatures. Fortunately, Bramble honorably insisted that unaffiliated voters participate in primary elections.

Most Utahns are demanding a change of some measure, which will be accomplished in this bloodless gelatinous coup.

Webb: Certainly, no perfect nomination process exists. All have pluses and minuses. The caucus/convention system has some excellent qualities, but some glaring weaknesses. Ditto the direct primary system. If the compromise goes into effect, we will essentially have both processes, and together they will work quite well. The result will be broader participation, especially as primary elections will be open to unaffiliated voters. Candidates will be motivated to reach out to both the ideological base of their party and more mainstream voters. That will be good for Utah politics.

Why did the supporters of CMV, and the opposing powerful legislators, agree to a compromise?

Pignanelli: Many dynamics were in play. CMV was facing a substantial challenge to collect the needed signatures in the rural Senate districts. Gov. Gary Herbert shrewdly threatened to veto the Bramble legislation. Legislators were anxious that a veto override session would generate hostile media attention. Political party officers did not want to agitate delegates or big money donors by staking public positions. Such pressure produces statesmanship and an appetite for compromise … especially when everyone wants to dodge a bullet.

Webb: As a CMV volunteer, I can forthrightly say that had the compromise fallen through, CMV was fully committed to complete the signature-gathering process and run an aggressive general election campaign. But it would have been terribly expensive, an enormous amount of work, and very divisive for both political parties. The compromise isn’t perfect, but it’s really quite good. To get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures, a candidate will have to work extremely hard. But that’s appropriate, because it also takes a great deal of effort to get through the caucus/convention system.

How does the dual-track process of selecting nominees impact Utah politics?

Pignanelli: Politicos predict well-funded ideologically moderate candidates will avoid the pain of interacting with extremist delegates and collect (aka purchase) the 28,000 signatures for a spot in the primary election. This is viewed as a direct threat to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, who has a lock on GOP delegates but could be vulnerable in a primary. (However, I still contend Lee will be tough to beat in 2016.)

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