I have great respect for former Govs. Mike Leavitt and Norm Bangerter, former Utah first lady Norma Matheson and businesswomen and philanthropist Gail Miller; co-chairs of the Count My Vote initiative (CMV). Although we differ in approach, we all have the same goal of wanting as many of our fellow Utahns as possible to be engaged in electing our state leaders and of having the best possible government.
Although our current caucus/convention system is not perfect and we are working to improve it, it has done a good job electing state leaders who have produced the best-managed state in the nation. Recently Utah finished the budget year with a $242 million surplus to add to our growing rainy day fund, while so many states are having record deficits.
The CMV initiative initially stated that we had a good system that just needed to be improved; however, now they want to completely do away with this system and go to a direct primary system similar to states like New York, California, Illinois, Florida — some of the states with some of the highest debt in our nation.
A direct primary system has not shown to produce a better-run state and it does not guarantee higher voter turnout.
In Utah we already have a direct primary in off-election years for municipal elections and voter participation is very low; less in those races than in the races with the caucus/convention system. The red herring being used is that by simply changing our system it will increase voter participation; however, the CMV initiative has yet to spell out how the change will accomplish this goal.
Furthermore there would be unintended consequences of moving to a direct primary. No longer would those running for statewide offices have to campaign in three/quarters of the counties of our state, making the voters in rural counties and their issues less relevant.
No longer would candidates need to meet with delegates and voters who can ask them the hard questions and hold them accountable. They can simply run their campaigns via radio and TV ads. Winning elections will become more a matter of catchy slogans and good advertising than of substance. No longer would the average Utahn be able to win a statewide office. Without millions of dollars or a big name it would be very difficult to win.
Finally, those promoting the CMV initiative say that it is time for Utah to change its system to become like most of the states in the nation; however, most states in the nations are doing far worst economically than Utah. Utah leads in almost every economic measure. Why abandon what works?
Instead of spending millions of dollars to try to scrap an effective system risking potentially negative repercussions for our state, let’s work together with both parties to make our good system even better.
Marco Diaz is state chair of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly and former candidate for state chair of the Utah Republican Party.