Utah’s political leaders have apparently cooked up a compromise that would allow the state’s political parties to keep their antiquated and exclusionary caucus-and-convention system on the books, while creating a way for the public at large to have a say in the nominating process while their say still matters.
It is a good deal. The Legislature should approve it. The governor should sign it. The people should use it.
Feeling the hot breath of the Count My Vote initiative drive on their necks, members of the Legislature in just the past few days have abandoned an attempt to pre-empt that movement and struck a deal that would at least have a chance of providing Utah voters with the best of both worlds.
Under the revamped SB54, moving through the House Monday, parties could keep their existing system to put a candidate or two on the primary election ballot. But those primaries would also be open to candidates who gathered enough signatures on a petition. The balloting would then be an election worthy of the name, more likely to result in officials who reflect the views of the whole body politic.
Count My Vote was a campaign launched by some of the most prominent names in Utah politics and business — Mike Leavitt, Norma Matheson, Gail Miller — to sweep aside the neighborhood caucuses and county and state conventions in favor of a primary system. Their quite reasonable concern was that the current system favors the views of a tiny, activist minority over the political mainstream and results in policy decisions that do not reflect the views of most Utahns.
CMV was mounting a petition drive to get its initiative on the ballot and, at least by its own count, was getting within easy striking distance of the 102,000 signatures that would be needed to have the idea put to a vote in November.
Sen. Curt Bramble launched SB54 as an attempt to neuter CMV. It would have allowed political parties to use the CMV primary system if they wanted to — which they wouldn’t — and only put the primary system into effect if the parties turned down a few minor changes to the status quo.
But Bramble, skilled vote-counter that he is, apparently came to the conclusion that CMV was destined, not only to get on the ballot, but to be approved. Thus the compromise.
Arguments raised against the deal Monday — that the proposed compromise is somehow akin to the movement of Russian tanks into Ukraine — only serve to demonstrate how out of touch some current officials are, and how unthinkingly bound they are to The Way We’ve Always Done It.
SB54, as amended, is political deal-making at its best. It should be approved.