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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Both parties defend the caucus; is hope for reform lost?

Published: Sunday, June 30 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

This May 18, 2013, file photo, shows people looking on during the Utah Republican Party's annual organizing convention, in Sandy, Utah. Utah Republicans pushing for reforms in their state caucus and convention system say they're moving forward with a plan to put an initiative before voters next year. Prominent Republicans in the group This May 18, 2013, file photo, shows people looking on during the Utah Republican Party's annual organizing convention, in Sandy, Utah. Utah Republicans pushing for reforms in their state caucus and convention system say they're moving forward with a plan to put an initiative before voters next year. Prominent Republicans in the group "Count My Vote" are planning an initiative allowing candidates to make a primary ballot with signatures instead of convention nominations. (Rick Bowmer, AP)

Incredible as it may seem, other things are happening in politics beyond the trauma of Utah's attorney general and blockbuster U.S. Supreme Court decisions. A few worth addressing:

Utah Democrats, in their convention a week ago, defied some expectations and voted to maintain the caucus/convention nominating system. Does this hurt the effort behind the Count My Vote initiative to reform Utah's nomination process?

Pignanelli: "All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." — James Madison

Well it's settled. The only difference between Utah Republican and Democrat organizing conventions is the temperature of the caffeine they consume. Policy differences exist, but apparently a delegate is a delegate and will do anything to protect his/her influence to control the nomination process.

The Democrats exploded the opportunity to demonstrate they are enlightened citizens ready to undertake change for the betterment of the state. The result may impede future fundraising and support from moderates and independents who are tired of right-wing antics. Furthermore, mainstream Republicans were hoping to leverage a Democrat mandate for change with their activists. (Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams deserves recognition of courage for his open advocacy of a primary system.) This is a significant setback for reform and guarantees that the delegate/convention system will remain in place for many years.

Webb: I greatly appreciate this opportunity to outrageously offend insiders/activists in both political parties. I'm a volunteer for the Count My Vote effort, so I obviously have strong opinions. By rejecting the views of moderates like McAdams, the Democratic Party demonstrated it is controlled by liberal labor unions, radical environmentalists and weird social justice activists — the left wing of the party. A mirror image of the Republican Party being controlled by right-wing arch-conservatives. Both parties have turned their backs on mainstream citizens, declining to broaden participation in the election process and discriminating against soldiers and missionaries who are away serving their country or church, or other people unable to attend party caucuses.

The Democrats could have emerged as the big-tent party of openness and inclusion. They could have said to centrist Utahns, "The Republicans don't want you. Come join our party." Instead, the same tired old liberal special interest groups continue to control the Democratic Party. Centrists aren't welcome.

Republican delegates, in their Central Committee meeting a week ago, endorsed an initiative called "My Vote Counts," designed to confuse Utahns who might support the Count My Vote reform effort. Is this dirty politics?

Pignanelli: When hundreds of Republicans forsake a beautiful Saturday to discuss political minutia, mischief is the result. Delegates and party officials believe their counter initiative is clever, but they risk backlash. Business and community leaders are already frustrated with the nasty right-wing Republican tone on immigration and other issues. Many long-time donors who keep the GOP offices open are considering diverting their resources from the party and towards candidates who reflect their views.

Count My Vote should drop the initiative and focus on precinct caucuses next March to ensure reasonable candidates and greater potential for change in 2015 organizing conventions.

Webb: The My Vote Counts diversionary tactic is dumb politics. It's going to cause great divisions within the Republican Party. It pits arch-conservative party insiders, who want to control the process and keep everyone else out, against mainstream Republican business and community leaders who want to open the process and encourage more participation.

Party insiders like to call me an elitist. But here's who's on my side: 70 percent of registered voters who want to dump the caucus/convention system; business leaders across the board, including chambers of commerce and most other business associations; higher education leaders and college boards of trustees; public education leaders, PTA, school boards, school principals; virtually all of the state's news media; all of the state's former living governors, most former state GOP chairs, most former members of Congress; most of Utah's non-profit organizations. Plus plenty of hints from leaders in the faith community that they want change. If we don't fix this thing, shame on us.

So are all these people elitists? Who's out-of-touch with mainstream Utah? Why should Utah business leaders contribute to the Republican Party when it is working against their interests? GOP Chairman James Evans, you have a problem.

Utah's new federal courthouse will be completed next spring. But a fight over the name of the structure is already underway between supporters of past U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Who should win?

Pignanelli: This is a no-brainer. Some downtown lawyers are attempting a revisionist makeover of crusty conservative Sutherland. An English immigrant, he enjoyed a successful political career in Utah. But his reputation as a jurist is a mixed bag. Sutherland authored many opinions — later reversed — striking down child labor laws and New Deal programs. Conversely, Sen. Orrin Hatch is a sunny conservative with an established reputation of working with Democrats to implement important legislation (i.e. children's health insurance, immigration reform, etc.). Millions of Americans are benefiting from Hatch's ecumenical approach and his legacy is a credit to the state and should be honored.

Webb: Name it after Hatch in honor of 42 years of service. He's shown a lot of courage and leadership on immigration reform. Side benefit: If he gets his name on a building he'll be a lot less likely to want to go for 48.

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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