Utah has now gone through its third June primary, and one lesson that should be learned by state lawmakers is that Utahns hate that date.
While every individual primary is unique - a Morgan Coun-ty sheriff's race, for example, brought a good turnout Tuesday - by and large turnout was poor across the state.If legislators really want a better-attended primary, they have to move it back into the fall. That, of course, would mean costly, summer-long intraparty battles. And legislators and party leaders don't want that, either.
The obvious solution is to move the whole candidate-nomination/ con-vention process further into the year. Hold mass meetings (now called party caucuses), where county and state delegates are picked, in early June before families take off for summer vacations.
Hold party conventions in late August and the primary election a month later in September (the old primary month). Then the final elections in November. Instead of a seven-month election process, squeeze it into four months.
Yes, Gov. Mike Leavitt is pushing for a Mountain West presidential primary in 2000, and that couldn't work under that tightened schedule. But the presidential primary could still be handled. Just have a separate vote in March or whenever, apart from any state, county or congressional schedules. We're going to have to have a separate election schedule for a presidential primary in any case.
Will this change ever happen?
No. Because a shortened schedule would harm congressional candidates' fund raising. Party leaders know that the really big money used in U.S. Senate and House races is locked up or otherwise spent by August when Utah convention and primaries would be held. So Utah congressional candidates couldn't get all the PAC money they want.
And since we all know money, not reason, drives politics, a tightened schedule is unlikely. So we're probably stuck with poorly attended June primaries for some time to come.
Now, looking at the results of this week's primary, one may be quick to say that the conservative wing of the state Republican Party got slapped down.
But it's too early to jump to that conclusion.
First off, even the "moderate" GOP incumbents who won are pretty conservative people. They just aren't as conservative as some on the party's right wing would like. It's not like the 1999 Legislature - which undoubtedly will still be controlled by Republicans - is going to run off and raise taxes, outlaw concealed weapons and legalize homosexual marriages.
True, 12 of the 16 GOP candidates endorsed by the conservative Utah Republican Assembly lost Tuesday. But in many cases they may not have been the best candidates. And beating an incumbent is always hard.
Leavitt's public endorsements and telephone banks for four legislators may well have had an impact in those races. But most of those URA-endorsed candidates were outvoted 2-to-1 - pretty big losses.
Republican Janalee Tobias lost her race against Leavitt-endorsed Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, who admittedly is one of the most moderate Republicans in the House.
She pooh-poohs Leavitt's I-feel-your-pain comment to losing candidates. "He's the golden boy. He's never lost a race and he was endorsed by (former Gov.) Norm Bangerter before his 1992 (GOP) primary. He (Leavitt) makes me sick. I'm going to quit politics."
Meanwhile, Salt Lake County Democratic chairman Joe Hatch says there may have been some Democratic crossover voting into GOP primaries Tuesday, but GOP chairmanRob Bishop's claim that those Democrats voted for, not against, arch-conservatives like the 3rd District's Jeremy Friedbaum is nuts.
Hatch says that "empirical and anecdotal" evidence shows Democrats voted for the "best" candidate in GOP primaries, not the weakest candidate.
If it just so happens that the "best" candidate was also the more moderate, that's because the bulk of Utah voters fall somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, adds Hatch.
In any case, many of the more-conservative candidates lost. Leaving Utah County GOP chairman Rod Fudge (who has been hounded by arch-conservatives over the past several months) to tell the Associated Press: "This wasn't a race of issues; it was of ideology and philosophy, and Republicans have repudiated any attempt to shanghai the party by the far right. It was a shout `No!' "
Don Ruzicka, co-founder of the assembly, said the election only showed the paranoia of the moderate party leadership, Leavitt included.
So, the Utah Republican Party did not take a lurch to the right Tuesday. The voters who bothered to vote mainly picked incumbents, many of them more moderate than their conservative challengers.
But the great thing about politics is that there's always another day. And come the spring of 1999 we'll be having these discussions of moderate-vs.-conservative Republicans again as GOP state and county party officials are up for election throughout the state.
If Ruzicka et al. really want to change the face of Republicanism in Utah, they'll be going after those party posts.