The tax reform movement may spark fireworks at the Republican State Convention Friday when delegates debate the party platform - the official statement of its values.
Tax reformers want to add platform planks to support the right to petition for ballot initiatives to change laws, which they are now doing with petitions for three propositions to limit taxes.If party officials refuse such planks, Mills Crenshaw - a tax reform movement leader and state delegate - said tax reformers will wage a major floor fight to seek full platform support for tax limitation.
That could become a test of whether Gov. Norm Bangerter - an opponent of tax limitation - can hold the party together and keep its right-fringe tax reformers happy enough that they won't bolt to support independent candidate Merrill Cook or Democrat Ted Wilson. Bangerter is trailing Wilson by 19 points in polls and must unify Republicans to win.
"We hope the convention will be a unifying event that brings the party together," said David Buhler, campaign manager for Bangerter. "We hope they (he tax reformers) and all Republicans will be happy with the result."
Crenshaw said that for tax reformers to be happy, they need a platform plank giving party support for the right of citizens to petition for initiatives.
"That's all we want. We're not trying to rub it the governor's face or embarrass him. It would be wrong to go after endorsement of the initiatives, although I personally think it would best for Republicans because polls show most Utahns support them," he said. He will seek endorsement of the initiatives, however, if the more minor planks are not allowed by leaders.
As drafted, the proposed platform does not include a statement on the right to petition nor the tax limitation petitions themselves. Crenshaw said the state platform committee already considered a plank to support the right to petition for initiatives, "but one of the governor's henchmen removed it."
Gayle McKeachnie, a former legislator who is chairman of the party's platform committee, said his committee did consider that plank but rejected it because the members thought it wasn't needed - not because of undue influence by the governor.
McKeachnie said his committee will reconsider that proposed plank, however, and other amendments proposed by state delegates at a meeting Friday afternoon before the convention. "I suppose we would like to accommodate the various interests within the party and let them feel good about the platform, rather than having a knock-down, dragged-about battle" about tax limitation, he said.
Crenshaw said that at the Salt Lake County Republican Convention, tax reformers asked the county platform committee to recommend similar amendments - which it did, and they were approved by delegates without controversy.
"We got 80 percent of what we wanted there," Crenshaw said. "We sat with mouths open when the committee's amendments to the platform were read. We were ready to fight on the floor for those amendments but had to change tactics when they gave us what we wanted."
Buhler said the governor will likely not object to the plank Crenshaw proposes, depending on its wording. "It would essentially just restate the Constitution. That's what happened in Salt Lake County, and we didn't oppose that. But we would have major problems with a plank supporting tax limitation and would fight that."
McKeachnie said his committee is trying to avoid addressing specific issues in the platform and would rather have it reflect general values instead. It suggests that delegates who want party stands on specific issues do it by proposing resolutions instead of modifying the platform.
He said some issues that were not included in the platform that could come up in resolutions - besides tax limitation - may include a stand on Army chemical and biologic arms research and a stand on proposed federal-state land trades around Lake Powell.