My view: As conservative and a Republican, I support the Count My Vote effort

By Mark Hedengren

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 14 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

I support the Count My Vote effort. Supporters of the caucus system defend it by saying it helps the underfunded candidate, but speaking as a congressional candidate who ran in the 3rd District with an $80 budget, it’s not true.

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In response to the article “Fight over Count My Vote may not be over yet” (May 12), I want to state that as a conservative and a loyal Republican I support the Count My Vote effort. Supporters of the caucus system defend it by saying it helps the underfunded candidate, but speaking as a Republican congressional candidate who ran in the 3rd district of Utah with an $80 budget, it’s not true.

I support the Count My Vote effort. Supporters of the caucus system defend it by saying it helps the underfunded candidate, but speaking as a congressional candidate who ran in the 3rd District with an $80 budget, it’s not true.

I was told repeatedly that people spend at least $70,000 to get to the convention. That’s not cheap. Count My Vote’s proposed 7,000 signatures would be a lot easier to obtain. I’m certain you could get each signature for less than $10.

Access to the delegates is controlled by about 20 ultra-political hobbyists in the Utah County Republican Party. I heard that my opponent, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, spent 2½ years courting these people before he ran against Chris Cannon. Two and a half years isn’t exactly cheap. I believe I wasn’t allowed to speak at most of the county Republican events or at the county convention because most all these people were backing Jason Chaffetz.

At all of my personally organized Utah County “meet the candidate” events, I had a member of a legislative district presidency asking me questions — not to try to find out my positions, but to try to trip me up and embarrass me in front of the delegates. One legislative district leader and her two friends would ask odd questions in rapid-fire trying to get me to react. After I asked them to stop asking questions so quickly, the legislative district leader got up in a huff and left the meeting.

The caucus system is actually one big fundraiser for the Utah Republican Party. It seems like at every turn, I had one Republican group or another asking me for a check. It was $550 for a booth, $1,500 for another booth, $1,250 for an ad in the program, and for $300 worth of tickets to the dinner, they’ll let you greet people at the door. The only thing that was free and supplied by the Republican Party was the six-minute speech at the convention. Even then, they wanted $275 to use the teleprompter. They have a monopoly on access to the delegates and use it to milk every penny out of the candidates.

I don’t know what they could be spending the money on that is more important than the caucus. Tax the caucus and the candidates so they can have parties later on? The whole concept seems very un-Republican.

Let’s hypothetically say that a candidate got 41 percent of the vote, the required amount to force an incumbent into a primary. I want you to know I realized this was virtually impossible from the beginning. I don’t know how anyone in a few weeks could get 41 percent of the vote. But suppose I did … would I have been spared the cost of a primary election? No, of course not. I would still have to do the traditional primary as well as the caucus. So I don’t feel that the caucus system helps the little guy in the least bit. I would much rather get the 7,000 signatures. It would cost less and take less effort.

I’m glad I only spent $80. I could have easily spent $10,000 to $70,000. Congressman Jason Chaffetz apparently has spent over $240,000. I wanted to go through the experience of an election. It was a lot of fun, but it didn’t make me a convert to the caucus system at all. The Utah caucus system is too expensive. Open primaries would make it a lot easier for underfunded candidates like me to have their voice heard.

Mark Hedengren is a businessman and former candidate for the 3rd Congressional District of Utah.

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