SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday Count My Vote leaders were right to restore the dual-track option for a candidate to get on the ballot in their initiative language, noting the GOP would be better off minimizing its squabbling and concentrating on candidate recruitment.
On Wednesday, the Count My Vote backers announced they were updating language in a ballot initiative to include both the caucus convention system and signature gathering process.
Previously, the initiative would have done away with the convention system in favor of direct primaries.
The switch, Herbert said, preserves options for candidates and voters.
"It gives the people choice and engages more people in the vote and will encourage us to have more primaries, more opportunity for people to vote," he said.
Herbert, addressing reporters at his monthly KUED media event, said the Utah Republican Party had spent "time and money we don't have" in its litigation over a compromise law passed in 2014 that preserves the caucus system but also allows candidates to collect signatures to get on the ballot.
The switch announced Wednesday mirrors a tough-fought compromise eked out by the Utah Legislature three years ago — called SB54— which was a reluctant concession to public and political criticism over the caucus system.
Herbert said both politicians and the public rightly complained the caucus system — of which he has long supported — has morphed into a headstrong political animal in need of refresher training.
"The delegates now tend to be stacked," he said, with people who don't reach out to neighbors to seek input. Rather, delegates are "I am here for one purpose and one purpose only, to get my candidate elected. We wind up with candidates who spend a ton of money to try to stack the delegates and that is not how the system is designed to be."
Herbert wants the Utah Republican Party to drop its lawsuit over SB54, arguing it's dividing party members and costing too much money.
Early this month, GOP Chairman Rob Anderson said he was going to drop the lawsuit — which is waiting on a decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver after oral arguments.
Then on Saturday, the party's Central Committee agreed to keep the lawsuit intact — as long as no more party money is spent in the fight.
Also on Thursday, Herbert said his office and Utah lawmakers are in discussions over another political fight regarding the potential release of a draft attorney general opinion on how to convene the special election process to fill a congressional vacancy.
The Legislature sought an opinion from Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes over whether Herbert had the authority to unilaterally set the procedures and timeline in the special election to select the replacement for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who stepped down early.7 comments on this story
Herbert blocked the release of the opinion, citing attorney-client privilege. Last month, the State Records Committee ordered the draft opinion released, citing public interest in how elections are governed.
The Utah Attorney General's Office has until Nov. 22 to decide if it will appeal to district court.
Herbert said the legal question needs to be settled, and he rebuffed rumors that he won't block the opinion's release once newly elected Congressman John Curtis is sworn in.
"Both sides want to have an answer," he said. "We don't want to give up the right to have the Attorney General's Office represent us under the constitution."