Salt Lake County Republicans are working on a plan that would allow regular party members to call GOP officeholders to task for votes or other official actions not upholding party principles.
While the disciplinary system is not in place yet, county GOP chairman Bill Quist hopes it will be by next year.Several moderate GOP officeholders are not enthusiastic about it.
"Sounds like the Ruzicka crowd to me," said Rep. Afton Bradshaw, R-Salt Lake, referring to GOP conservative activists Gayle and Don Ruzicka. Gayle Ruzicka runs the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative, pro-family group. Don Ruzicka is co-chairman of the Utah Republican Assembly, a group that advocates conservative ideals and says it will track and rank GOP officeholders according to conservative standards.
Bradshaw adds that she is a big girl; she votes to represent her constituency, "and I don't need a trip to the principal's office."
Rep. Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, is a leader in the newly formed mainstream Republican caucus in the Utah House. He sees the county party's idea as problematic.
"If I don't vote like someone thinks I should - vote opposite to what someone believes the Salt Lake County Republican platform says - what does that mean? What if the county platform is different from the state (GOP) platform or the national platform? Who's to say?"
Quist said there has already been some paranoia over the idea.
But he defends the plan, saying that Republican candidates are certified and approved by the county party and should, in some way, be answerable to those who entrusted them to represent party ideals.
After delegates to the Salt Lake County Convention adopted the county platform two weeks ago, Quist held up the document and said it had real meaning, and that GOP candidates picked in the convention could be censored or otherwise called to task if they didn't uphold it in their official duties.
Quist says one goal of a hearing on a Republican officeholder's actions could be that the representative would have a chance to explain himself, and better understanding could come from that.
Say, for example, that the county platform says no tax increases. But then a GOP House member votes in the next Legislature for a tax hike. "Maybe there was a very good reason to do that, the alternatives being so bad that the tax increase" made sense, said Quist.
A formal complaint made against the officeholder could result in a hearing in which the lawmaker could justify to the party central committee what was done and possibly even receive support because of it.
But there could be mischief, also, worries Spencer Stokes, state Republican Party executive director. "We aren't planning or doing anything like that (Quist's idea) on the state level," said Stokes. "It would be very difficult to enforce" any code of voting for GOP officeholders. Hauling someone before the central committee for a hearing "could bring ill will; it could be bad all the way around," said Stokes.
Several moderate GOP legislators, saying they didn't want their names used, said Quist's system could give right wing members of their party a formal procedure to hammer them at re-election time.
As an example one cited former Rep. Nancy Lyon's 1994 re-election in her Bountiful district. Lyon was opposed by conservatives in her party. She was ultimately defeated, in part, because of a vote she made the year before to move an abortion bill out of a committee. That abortion bill could be considered contrary to standard Republican Party pro-life stands. If a similar situation happened under Quist's plan, the legislator could be called before a party committee and censored or criticized for such a vote. Certainly a GOP challenger would use that censor against the moderate Republican legislator in a later intra-party campaign.
"I represent my constituents - all of them," said Curtis. He adds that he stays in close touch "with the 60 or so" GOP delegates from his legislative district. What if a vote he makes is OK with those 60 Republicans, but some other Republicans are offended by it and make a complaint? he asks. "Who am I supposed to be representing: any Republican in the county, any in the state?"
But without some accountability to the party members who nominate them, Quist says political parties, especially county parties, have little meaning.