The Count My Vote effort that sparked frenzied debate earlier this year seems to be a moot point since the Utah Legislature passed compromise legislation that satisfied the effort’s leaders and created two paths to a political party’s primary election ballot.
But the issue still is looming under the radar as the executive committees of county Republican parties pass resolutions to repeal the bill and Republican groups contemplate a lawsuit to stop the bill from going into effect.
A compelling element of the continuing debate is a look at who favors the Count My Vote compromise and who wants it dead.
Beneath the rhetoric, there is a tacit battle going on. It is not usually mentioned, but Sen. Mike Lee is in the middle of this debate.
Lee supporters want to repeal the bill and keep Utah’s candidate nominating system the way it is — delegates elected at neighborhood caucuses choose the candidates at the party’s convention.
Others, who don’t readily appear to be in Lee’s camp, want a path to the primary ballot that doesn’t require the approval of the convention delegates.
The compromise bill, fashioned by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, preserves the current caucus/convention system but allows for an alternate path to the ballot if a candidate can get so many signatures on a ballot. The original Count My Vote plan, which was headed for a ballot initiative before organizers stopped gathering petitions when the bill was passed, would have created a direct primary as the only means to the ballot.
While Lee’s approval ratings have waned among the general public after his role in the congressional budget gridlock that led to a government shutdown, the right-wing base of the Republican Party continues to champion his causes.
He received a 10-minute ovation that was orchestrated by organizers of a rally last November, and he got the loudest applause of all the office holders at the recent Republican State Convention.
That right-wing base still has influence in the state and county conventions, which is why those in that segment of the party don’t want the current system changed.
But those delegates who hold that power don’t think the same way as the general public in Utah, as shown by polls conducted by the Utah Foundation in 2010 and 2012.
In 2010, the year Lee was elected after three-term incumbent Bob Bennett was ousted at the convention, the polling showed that Utah voters overwhelmingly tagged public education as the most important issue for the state.
But Republican state delegates listed it as their 11th priority in 2010 — behind gun-control issues, grazing and getting the United States out of the United Nations.
In 2012, delegates moved education up to their fifth most important issue. But that was the year Sen. Orrin Hatch galvanized his own neighborhood caucus movement to replace the right-wing delegates who helped Lee get elected with his own supporters so he wouldn’t face the same fate as Bennett.
A recent op-ed in the Deseret News by Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson attracted my curiosity about the Mike Lee intrigue. Anderson had commissioned a poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates to determine the most respected public figures in Utah. He then published the results of that poll in his op-ed piece.
The poll found that Jon Huntsman Sr. was the most respected figure, followed by Gail Miller, Spencer Eccles Jr. and former Gov. Mike Leavitt.
Anderson was a strong supporter of Count My Vote and is an ally of Leavitt, who led the County My Vote endeavor and has been mentioned as a possible Republican opponent of Lee in 2016.
The poll had Lee coming in second to last among the 26 names listed. The poll included such names as Josh Romney, Kirk Jowers, Jon Huntsman Jr., Dan Liljenquist and Thomas Wright. They all have been mentioned as possible GOP challengers to Lee and they all finished ahead of him in the poll.
Interestingly, former presidential candidate and Utah darling Mitt Romney recently came out in favor of Count My Vote. His son Josh is probably the one mentioned most as a potential Lee foe in 2016.
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