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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Will Utah parties change how they pick candidates?

Published: Sunday, April 21 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Utah Republican Central Committee rejected a proposal to increase the convention delegate vote threshold to win the party's nomination. Is this the end of reform for Utah's nomination process, or the beginning of a ballot proposal petition to achieve fundamental changes? (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) The Utah Republican Central Committee rejected a proposal to increase the convention delegate vote threshold to win the party's nomination. Is this the end of reform for Utah's nomination process, or the beginning of a ballot proposal petition to achieve fundamental changes? (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

It seems the world spins out of control, with cataclysmic events occurring far beyond our feeble minds to comprehend. We'll stick with what we understand: old-fashioned politics.

The Utah Republican Central Committee rejected a proposal to increase the convention delegate vote threshold to win the party's nomination. Is this the end of reform for Utah's nomination process, or the beginning of a ballot proposal petition to achieve fundamental changes?

Pignanelli: "Those who have been once intoxicated with power … never can willingly abandon it." — Edmund Burke

Shocked! I am shocked … absolutely shocked that members of this GOP governing body, after receiving guidance from prominent political intelligentsia, did not collectively state: "You are absolutely right. We should give up our power and influence to determine nominees of the party. We are ashamed of our actions and please send our apologies to Bob Bennett."

For years, political leaders have reminded delegates frequently that they are too powerful and control the destiny of our politicians. If you say something repeatedly to someone — especially if it's true — they will revere and hold it dear. So why would delegates voluntarily undertake any action to reduce their authority? Even the suggested compromise of raising the threshold from 60 percent to 70 percent in conventions causes some diminishment of their influence and was rejected by the committee.

Real change to the nomination system will only occur through the Legislature (unlikely to happen for years) or through a ballot initiative. While a majority of Utahns want a change to the delegate/convention system, none of them will spend a Saturday in the front of the grocery store gathering signatures for a petition. Thus, initiative sponsors will spend an almost half million dollars for paid signature gatherers. National tea party organizations (who love the delegate process) have promised to weigh in against any reform activity, and an additional half million will need to be secured for advertising in response. Initiative supporters need to find one or several sugar daddies.

Webb: As is widely known, I'm associated with the group suggesting reforms to the nomination system. Our objective is to increase citizen participation in Utah's political processes. I've long been a supporter of the caucus/convention system, and continue to be so. But along with many Utah leaders and a clear majority of Republican voters, I believe it's time to make reforms so that more citizens have a say in determining party nominees.

The Republican Party, to its credit, has actually made good progress. The Central Committee voted to open caucus meetings so that citizens can participate without having to attend at a specific time at a specific place. That will encourage candidates to reach out to a broader spectrum of voters in the pre-caucus election phase, instead of just communicating with party activists and past delegates.

The group promoting reform has worked closely with party leaders and will continue to do so. I'd like to see delegates at the state convention next month ratify the Central Committee's action, broadening caucus participation and also raising the convention vote threshold. I believe those changes would be significant enough that a citizen ballot proposal effort would be unnecessary.

National GOP operatives continue to perform a self-autopsy to confront changing demographics and national-level election losses. Is this evidence that the tea party right wing — especially in Utah — is in decline?

Pignanelli: Many national Republican Party leaders (i.e. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour) continue to blemish their political affiliation as the "stupid party." Who am I to disagree? Despite some enlightened movement on immigration, recent actions by the National GOP Central Committee demonstrate the far-right controls the party. Our Legislature dampened the rhetoric on some issues, but ultra-conservatives will likely control party offices after convention elections next month. Stupidity apparently doesn't guarantee extinction.

Webb: The tea party uprising in 2010 was the best thing that has occurred in national politics in many decades. It provided the energy to hand the Democrats a major defeat, win the U.S. House, and stop President Obama's ultra-liberal agenda in its tracks. But the Republican Party can't just be the party of NO. It is important now for political leaders to be problem solvers and address the nation's major challenges.

I believe both nationally and in Utah we're seeing a shift toward more practical, problem-solving governance instead of highly ideological rhetoric that doesn't solve anything. Immigration is an example. In Utah, even conservative (and courageous) legislators are now willing to talk about tax increases for education. With the defeat of several tea party ideologues in 2012, Utah is ready to move on to sensible, problem-solving politics.

The U.S. Senate "Gang of 8" is constructing a bipartisan immigration solution. How should Utah's congressional delegation respond?

Pignanelli: Our national lawmakers should remember two things: Classical conservative economists conclusively demonstrate immigration restrictions result in economic stagnation; and the legislation mirrors the spirit of the famous Utah Compact. So vote for it!

Webb: Immigration has been an enormous, divisive issue that has hurt the country and hurt the economy. The compromise tightens borders while dealing realistically with the millions of illegal immigrants already here. We need to bring them out of the shadows and prosecute the criminals who want to stay hidden. The compromise incorporates important reforms championed by Sen. Orrin Hatch on farm and high-tech workers. It's time to support the compromise.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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