Sen. Curt Bramble has emerged as the Legislature’s go-to guy when it comes to messing with voter-petition drives intended to pass legislation at the ballot box that lawmakers and other political insiders do not particularly like.
The Provo Republican’s latest endeavor is a clever infiltration into the Count My Vote initiative that would make moot the petition’s goal of replacing the current caucus-convention nominating process with direct primaries.
The initiative drive clearly has momentum, with more than 100,000 signatures already to get it on November’s ballot. Backers have raised more than $1 million for the cause.
The Utah First Political Issues Committee, the anti-Count My Vote group formed mostly by GOP operatives, has raised less than $20,000, with almost all of the contributions coming from the Republican parties in Washington, Iron, Davis, Weber and Wasatch counties.
Regardless of the initiative’s apparent popularity, Bramble’s SB54, which appears to have support in the Legislature, would thwart it.
The bill incorporates the exact language of the initiative, so it doesn’t usurp the will of the people, but it gives political parties the option of keeping the caucus/convention system if they tweak some rules to make it easier for neighbors to vote for delegates at their caucus meetings (as well as for delegates to vote for candidates at the convention), increase the threshold for a candidate to win the nomination at the convention, and allow unaffiliated voters to participate in party primaries.
Former Gov. Mike Leavitt, one of the main forces behind Count My Vote, says Bramble’s bill is a ploy to neuter the petition drive. But Leavitt should know he’s dealing with a pro.
After conservative political gadfly Merrill Cook launched a petition drive in the 1990s to place on the ballot a term-limits initiative, the Legislature trumped the effort by passing its own term-limits bill in 1994. It capped the terms of most elected officeholders in Utah at 12 years.
When that 12-year sentence was nearing its deadline for a number of veteran legislators, Bramble stepped forward in 2003 and sponsored a bill that repealed the term-limits legislation — sort of a belated bait and switch.
Leavitt signed both term-limits measures.
When reformers gathered signatures for an ethics initiative, the Legislature adopted its own ethics bill limiting gifts lawmakers could receive and banning certain perks, including free tickets to sporting events.
But it was Bramble to the rescue again. The many Brigham Young University fans in the Legislature realized they couldn’t get free tickets to the BYU-Utah game in 2012 because of the law they earlier approved to stop the initiative.
Bramble had sponsored SB181, which remained pretty much under the radar and had passed the session earlier that year.
That measure exempted government-sponsored events from the sports ticket ban. Since the game was being played at the University of Utah, a state institution, the legislators got their free tickets.
While several legislators took advantage of that exemption, Bramble still paid for his own ticket to the game.
In 2007, when the Legislature approved a controversial voucher bill, which would have given parents state money to help defray the cost of private school tuition, despite polls consistently showing most Utahns were against it, word got around before the session ended that a petition drive would be launched for a voter referendum to repeal the bill.
Legislators then adopted a second voucher bill that repeated major portions of the first measure and claimed later that the referendum effort was moot because the second bill would still stand.
Bramble, a co-sponsor, of the Parents for Choice in Education Act, was one of two senators who filed a petition with the Utah Supreme Court in hopes the jurists would agree the voucher program should go forward despite the outcome of the referendum election.
Bramble and his backers lost that one. The court ruled the referendum would settle the fate of the voucher program — despite the second bill. In the end, voters overwhelmingly repealed it.