Rolly: Utah’s GOP purists are their own worst enemy

By PAUL ROLLY

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: January 13, 2014 10:25AM
Updated: January 13, 2014 09:45AM
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Paul Rolly

The hard-right core of the Utah Republican Party that insists on ideological purity has become the worst enemy of its own agenda, frustrating the GOP’s greater goals.

This faction, centered in the tea party hub of Utah County, hates the Count My Vote initiative that would replace the caucus-convention nominating system with direct primaries.

That’s because the current setup favors extremists who can exert more control over neighborhood caucuses, where convention delegates are elected.

Yet because of their refusal to compromise, those anti-reform extremists may actually ensure the success of Count My Vote.

Alliance for Good Government, the political-issues committee behind the Count My Vote push, is led by former Gov. Mike Leavitt and other formidable Republicans, while most of those in the party infrastructure oppose direct primaries, arguing they would cut out lesser-known and underfunded candidates.

But that party infrastructure erects a brick wall to any suggestions GOP leaders make, such as tweaking the current system, that would appease the Count My Vote folks and avoid the direct primary threat.

Former State Republican Chairman Thomas Wright proposed two changes at the past state GOP convention that he said would satisfy the Count My Vote forces and back them off from their effort to get on the ballot an initiative that would create direct primaries.

He proposed changing the threshold a candidate needs at convention to avoid a primary from 60 percent of the delegate vote to two-thirds. That would lessen the chances that delegates nominate outright a candidate not favored by most party voters.

The second proposal would allow for absentee and remote voting at neighborhood caucuses so more party members could participate in the election of delegates.

Both those proposals were shot down by ideological purists, spurring Count My Vote, archenemy of those purists, to press forward.

Utah Republican Chairman James Evans endorsed Rick Votaw, who was Evans’ vice chair when the latter oversaw Salt Lake County’s GOP, for party secretary when the State Central Committee met last month to fill that vacancy.

Evans argued that Votaw, a retiree with expertise in Web design, could devote full-time attention to preparations for the neighborhood caucuses in March, leaving Evans free to work against Count My Vote.

But the purist cabal instead voted in bloc to elect, by two votes, Cameron Robinson, from Utah County, who has a full-time job and will not be able to devote the time to caucus preparation Votaw had committed to do.

The result: another boost for Count My Vote.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, has introduced legislation that mirrors the Count My Vote language, but allows the option of the caucus convention system with a few modifications: allow absentee and remote voting in caucuses and conventions, up the threshold at convention from 60 percent to 65 percent and permit unaffiliated voters to vote in party primaries.

The proposal is also opposed by the lemmings diving into the sea of political purity.

prolly@sltrib.com