Rolly: Mike Lee camp nearly stopped Count My Vote deal

Published March 8, 2014 10:45 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Count My Vote compromise has now passed the Legislature and the new law insures political parties can keep their caucus/convention system while providing an alternate path to the primary election ballot through petition signatures.

But the deal that had been struck a week ago temporarily fell apart, forcing the negotiators to scrap a planned press conference last Saturday.

The reasons for the road block, which was removed after more negotiations and some arm twisting, have not been fully explained. But it was the ghost of Sen. Mike Lee that nearly upset the entire process.

The current system is comprised of neighborhood caucuses held in March, where delegates are elected to represent the neighborhood and vote at the party convention to nominate their candidates. Presently, a candidate can avoid a primary and go directly to the general election if he or she gets 60 percent of the delegate vote.

Second Substitute Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, tweaks that system to encourage more participation at the caucus and convention levels and raises the bar for a candidate to avoid a primary. But it also allows candidates to appear on their party's primary ballot without going through the convention if they can get a prescribed number of registered voters to sign a petition.

Backers of Bramble's bill said the compromise would stop the Count My Vote promoters from getting an initiative on this year's ballot that would replace the delegate vote with a direct primary.

The Count My Vote folks agreed to the compromise because the earlier version of Bramble's bill would effectively dismantle their direct primary effort and essentially keep the current system, which they say favors special interests, intact.

The anti-Count My Vote people favored the compromise because they wanted to stop the ballot initiative petition, which would show a great number of voters want a change.

So the agreement was reached. A press conference was called for last Saturday, and then it was canceled.

One guy stopped it.

That guy was Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who Bramble had selected to be his House sponsor. McCay had long been a vocal opponent of Count My Vote, so, while Bramble declined to comment for this story, other sources in the Legislature told me that McCay was the ideal House sponsor to bring along his fellow doubters.

McCay also is regarded as a loyal member of the GOP Caucus, so while he personally had problems with the direct primary alternative, he was trusted to do his job conveying the wishes of the caucus.

After two long, contentious closed-door sessions, the caucus voted to support the compromise and the press conference was called for Saturday.

Then, on Friday night, McCay balked. He wanted an amendment added to the bill that would delay implementation until 2018.

Why the delay?

Lee is up for re-election in 2016 and the Lee camp, probably more than any other campaign team, fears Count My Vote because it would make it more likely for him to get a primary election challenge. If the current system is kept, he would have a better chance defeating Republican foes among the delegates.

Lee has shown poorly in recent polls with approval ratings hovering in the 40 percent range. Delegates, who traditionally are more extreme in their politics than their average party member, would be more likely to support the relatively strident Lee.

So McCay reportedly was acting at the behest of the Lee campaign. Eventually, though, he was persuaded that his primary duty was to represent the wishes of the caucus.

And he did. —

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