It is to be expected that people who have risen to positions of power will be fiercely loyal to the system that got them there. "You got to dance with them what brung you," as they say in Texas.
But Utah’s uniquely undemocratic caucus and convention system has produced a ruling class that is out of touch with the will of the people of Utah. And now some of those leaders in the Legislature want to torpedo the Count My Vote initiative petition drive just as it nears its first level of success.
Sen. Curt Bramble, who acknowledges that the current system is not good enough, has put forward Senate Bill 54. It includes the direct primary system promoted by Count My Vote, but only as an option the state’s political parties could take or leave. It also offers the parties another option — which they would take — of keeping their caucus/convention system by making a few real, but hardly sufficient, improvements.
This is a mistake. The Legislature should put SB54 on the shelf, allow Count My Vote to run its course, and let the people speak.
Count My Vote is an effort, led by some of the state’s more moderate business- and academic-oriented thinkers, that would bypass the caucus/convention process in favor of a direct primary system, a variation on the theme used in most states.
Organizers say they have some 100,000 signatures on their petitions, close to the 102,000 they need to put the question to the people on the ballot this November. The success of the drive is a combination of name recognition (former Gov. Mike Leavitt, former Utah first lady Norma Matheson and Gail Miller, head of the Larry H. Miller business empire), private money (more than $1 million and counting) and, most importantly, an issue whose time has come.
The current system has produced a Legislature, and some members of Congress, far to the right of even the overwhelmingly conservative body politic of Utah. Elected officials are forever undercutting public education, favoring the interests of developers and industry over that of the public’s health and wasting considerable time and money on embarrassing message bills that range from the veneration of gun rights to the ridiculous efforts to "take back" federal land that never belonged to Utah in the first place.
Legislators praise the caucus system as their opportunity to meet with neighborhood delegates, many of whom share Utahns’ challenges. They sincerely and, to some extent reasonably, argue that those encounters are better than just carpet bombing their districts with slick handbills and spending all their time raising money.
But to describe that outreach to a couple thousand delegates as grassroots politics, as the promoters of SB54 do, is like finding 100 thriving blades of grass in an otherwise brown lawn and calling it good.
Count My Vote should proceed to the ballot, unhindered by any legislative rear-guard action. And the people should decide.
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