Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo got the green light from a committee Friday moving forward his bill to alter how Utah's political parties nominate their candidates. The bill is meant as a compromise and an alternative to the ballot initiative being pushed by Count My Vote that would replace the caucus/convention system with direct primaries for Utah's political parties. Die-hard supporters of the caucus system, however, were critical of the bill prompting Bramble to ask what would be better his compromise bill keeping the system and tweaking it or the CMV effort that would change the system dramatically. That decision Bramble said was the “gun to the head” of the political parties of the state.
Count My Vote, as City Weekly has previously reported has been organizing and gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to do away with caucuses and conventions they believe allow a small group of delegates to have too much control over the nomination of candidates. By leaving the nomination up to primaries, CMV organizers hope it will get more everyday Utahns out to the polls, since the power of nominating won't be just left to the delegates—a term synonymous among some critics with the “crazies” that live on the fringes of both parties.
Bramble's bill looks to make law a proposal that was shot down in 2013 by the State Republican Party that would have increased the threshold for votes at convention to prevent a direct primary. Currently if a candidate at convention gains 60 percent or more of the delegates' votes they avoid going to a direct primary. Bramble's bill would push that bar up to 65 percent to allow for more direct primaries.
His bill would also address other concerns with the caucus system such as allowing delegates to vote at conventions remotely and allow party members to vote for delegates remotely in case they have a conflict that keeps them from attending their neighborhood precinct meeting. His bill would also give citizens a two day window to vote for delegates nominated at caucus night. Bramble found plenty of errors and problems with the CMV initiative and felt given that it was within the Legislature's ball court to take the issue on.
“We have competing views unable to find common ground and we have an initiative that has significant errors so I felt it appropriate for the Legislature to weigh in,” Bramble said.
Given the fact that so many current politicos have run the caucus/convention gauntlet and finished in elected office, it wasn't surprising to see many on the committee and others supporting the bill as a way of preserving the current system.
Kelly Atkinson, a former legislator and a current lobbyist on the hill testified that Bramble's bill was an important way to preserve the current system which he lauded for making politics more personal, saying it “allows for a sitting US senator to sit in my home and talk to me about what they're going to do to make a difference.”
Dan Lilljenquist, a former state lawmaker and 2012 challenger to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, was a candidate who thanks to the caucus system was able to take his battle to a direct primary, where he ultimately lost out against the veteran incumbent. Lilljenquist joked with the committee that despite having a last name no one could pronounce and would most likely be associated with a mortuary company that “I participated in a process that allowed me to sit down with 250 county delegates one by one and express what I believe.”
Still the more defiant caucus supporters argued that Bramble's bill would infringe upon political parties First Amendment rights in dictating how they gather and nominate their candidates. It was a point that committee member Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem seized upon, arguing that while he would vote the bill out of committee, he too was wary of crossing a constitutional line and would like to see amendments to the bill on the floor. Despite the controversy, no Count My Vote supporters or representatives testified, although after the committee CMV issued a statement criticizing the legislation for trying to thwart the will of the people and comparing it to the highly unpopular House Bill 477 from the 2011 session that sought to drastically rewrite state government records laws.
"Legislators and parties perpetuate themselves by defining rules favorable to their election or ideology and then use their legislative authority to preempt any attempt to override their unwillingness to act," the statement reads. "Count My Vote seeks nothing more than to put this question before the people on the November ballot and let voters decide."
Despite some resistance in the committee, however, the bill passed out favorably by a unanimous vote and will now head to the Senate floor for further debate.
To read SB 54 click here. To contact Sen. Bramble about this bill click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill click here. For more updates from the hill visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.