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Paul Rolly: Utah’s caucus system: The few pick for the many


| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Apr 18 2014 04:43 pm • Last Updated Apr 18 2014 04:43 pm

Here are a few arguments, based on what actually happened at some county conventions last weekend, to support the idea that Utah’s unique caucus/convention system is not the best way to nominate a party’s candidate.

Weber County, for the first time in the memory of a 60-year veteran of Republican Party politics, does not have an election for either of the two county commission seats.

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The commissioners who will represent the many tens of thousands of residents in that county were elected by a few hundred delegates at the Republican convention last Saturday.

In one commission race, two-term incumbent Jan Zogmaister was eliminated at the convention because her opponent, Riverdale Police Lt. James Ebert, got 67 percent of the delegate votes, making him the automatic Republican nominee.

There is no Democrat in the race, so Ebert becomes the new commissioner based on convention results.

He got the biggest applause from delegates when he spoke of the opposition to a recently approved $45 million library bond.

But here’s the kicker. That bond was approved by the voters of the county last June. So the countywide populace approved of the bond, but the few hundred delegates didn’t. And the opinion of the few hundred delegates prevailed.

In the other commission race, Commission Chairman Kerry Gibson did not have an opponent in the convention. There is no Democrat in that race either, so he was elected by acclamation of the delegates in the room.

Delegates also chose the next county attorney Saturday. They gave Deputy County Attorney Chris Allred 79 percent of their vote, which allows him to avoid a primary and be the automatic nominee. There is no Democrat in the race, despite the fact that the retiring county attorney is a Democrat. So Allred is the winner, with the general electorate having no choice.

Over in Davis County, here’s an eyewitness account from a delegate at the Republican convention.

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This delegate was at the convention for six hours, finally leaving before its conclusion at 9 p.m.

The convention did have great turnout, with 875 of the 900 showing up. But that success resulted in long credentialing lines that forced the meeting to be delayed by an hour-and-a-half.

Those delegates who lived in the three legislative districts with more than one candidate met together at the same time in the auditorium in designated places — two districts of over 100 people each in the back rows at either side of the auditorium and one in the front.

Candidates stood in front of their delegates and without microphones yelled to the audience to explain their positions on issues. They were interrupted repeatedly by candidates in other areas of the auditorium, also having to yell, and constant clapping and cheering from the other delegations.

My source said it was nearly impossible to hear the candidates as they stated their positions on issues.

In the countywide races, at least there will be a primary in one of the two county commission races. Bret Millburn and Brian Muir will face off for the GOP nomination. But in the other commission race, Jim Smith is the nominee with 71 percent of the delegate vote.

Because Democrats just don’t get elected in Davis County, Smith will be the commissioner, representing all of the county residents, based the votes of a little more than 600 people.

Meanwhile, the sheriff was re-elected on the basis of 597 delegate votes and the county recorder with 584 votes. There were no challengers in nine races. So those running unopposed at the convention are the winners. As I said, Democrats in Davis County are irrelevant.

No wonder voter turnout is down. The process has been hijacked by the few.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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