Some believe the passage of SB54, “Election Amendments,” will be the death of the caucus and convention system in Utah. I am not one of them. Instead, I believe it will have far more reaching consequences, not the least of which is the death of the two-party system and the birth of a new, two-intra-party system within the Utah Republican Party.
If the Democratic Party was not already dead in Utah, it certainly will be after SB54 goes into effect starting with the 2016 election cycle. All those who are now moderate to liberal Democrats and want to get elected to political office will migrate out of the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party, leaving the Democrats with only the most extreme liberal elements of their party that are unelectable outside of Salt Lake City.
Replacing a marginally viable Utah Democratic Party will be two new factions within the Republican Party — the “signature-gathering faction” and the “caucus faction.”
These two intra-party factions will replace the two-party system in Utah. The signature-gathering faction will represent more moderate and liberal candidates that come from the ranks of the unaffiliated and those out of the Democratic and Republican parties willing to finance their support. The caucus faction will represent the conservative candidates in the Republican Party that will depend on the party’s grass-roots base for its support. The two factions through their candidates will rage and roar at each other, one declaring it represents “the people” and the other declaring it represents “true Republicans.”
Within the Legislature, the division of these two factions will be played out for public view. In fact, the public will see each faction begin to develop its own caucuses in the House of Representatives and the Senate to do battle with each other. The few Democrats that are left in the Legislature will inevitably align with the signature-gathering faction of the Republican Party. The political and voting advantage will go to this faction — a faction that will depend on Democrats' support for its agenda. Ultimately, that dependence will result in the Legislature becoming much more liberal.
The inevitable liberalization of the Legislature will place at risk much of the fiscal discipline that Utah has been known for. Eventually, Utah will become more of a “tax and spend” state. The public will pay more taxes so that the politicians can spend more money on the insatiable demands of special interests. The devolving tax and spend environment will discourage the expansion of business in Utah, impacting employment and prosperity. It will have significant negative consequences across budget and policy debates and decisions within the Legislature in the coming years, fired up by the warring factions in the Republican Party.
Just as importantly, the social values heretofore safeguarded in Utah will become more vulnerable to the new political storms surrounding the two intra-party factions. The public virtues previously cherished by Utahns and protected by the law will be degraded. Alcohol laws will be liberalized; parental rights and control will be supplanted by government dominion; traditional marriage will be redefined; life of the unborn will be furthered devalued; and religion and its freedoms will be circumscribed in the public square.
Too few appreciate the full impact of SB54. Because of it, Utah will not only be politically reconstructed, in the course of time, it will be culturally deconstructed. Many will cheer and celebrate that outcome, others will be alarmed and alienated.
Stuart C. Reid is a Utah state senator from Ogden.