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Rolly: Dems, too, try to stifle direct primaries
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The hard-right Republican base isn't the only group trying to stifle the Count My Vote effort to replace the caucus-convention system with a direct primary for nominating party candidates.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis has been calling prominent Democrats who have donated to the Count My Vote cause and has urged them to spend their money on Democratic candidates instead.

Count My Vote has raised about $500,000 so far to get an initiative on the 2014 ballot to change the system. It needs to get 10 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election in 26 of Utah's 29 counties to get the measure on the ballot.

The debate about changing the nominating system has been largely between so-called moderate or traditional conservative Republicans, with some moderate Democrats joining the cause, and the more right-wing conservative Republicans who enjoyed a huge bump in their influence within the GOP after the tea party surge of 2010.

The moderates want to go to a direct primary system within each party while the tea party types like things just the way they are, by nominating candidates at the convention from the votes of delegates elected at neighborhood caucuses.

Those who want to change the system say the status quo as resulted in the elections of extremists who don't elect the mainstream of their party.

The focus on that fight has been on the Republican end. But the Democrats, while not getting the same attention, have shown a desire to keep the caucus-convention system as well.

Dabakis says he is not fervently opposed to changing the nominating process, but he says the concern that the caucus-convention system results in extremists ending up as party nominees "is a Republican problem."

County My Vote is led by such prominent Republicans as former Gov. Mike Leavitt, Hinckley Institute of Poltiics Director Kirk Jowers and Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller. But Democrats also have been heavy contributors to its political issues committee, Alliance for Good Government.

Dabakis said he has argued to other Democrats that the best way to get a moderating influence in government is to elect Democrats, so it is better to contribute to those candidates than to a change-in-party-nominations initiatives.

The problem with that analysis is reality: Utahns don't elect Democrats. And keeping the current system ensures the more extreme elements of the Democratic base will have the same advantage going forward as the extreme elements in the Republican base.

Dabakis reportedly called traditional Democratic Party deep-pocket contributor Bruce Bastian, who already has donated $10,000 to the Alliance for Good Government PIC, to discourage any more contributions to the PIC, although the Democratic chair would not disclose to me which individual Democrats he has contacted.

Other prominent Democrats contributing to Count My Vote include Kem Gardner, who gave $25,000, and Omar Kadir who gave $10,000. Former Utah first lady Norma Matheson has lent her name and notoriety to the cause. Her son, Congressman Jim Matheson, has positioned himself as one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress. He actually faced a primary from a liberal Democrats after going through the convention process a few years ago, even though he is the only Democrat holding the mantle for the party in Utah's congressional delegation.

The initiative would change the party nominating process to a direct primary in which candidates would be required to obtain signatures from 2 percent of their party-affiliated registered voters in the jurisdiction in which they are running.

Parties could still conduct their caucuses to elect convention delegates, but those delegate votes in the convention would just be to endorse candidates, not nominate them.

The Democratic state delegates voted earlier this year to keep the current system, just like the Republicans did, although the GOP Central Committee recently voted to tweak the current system in an effort to slow the Count My Vote momentum. —

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