All these ballot pushes offer more evidence that Utah lawmakers aren’t doing what Utah voters want

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Staff photos of the Salt Lake Tribune staff. Paul Rolly.

Here’s the latest example of Congress’ disconnect from the public: Polls show that upward of 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans want better background checks for gun purchases even as GOP lawmakers recite the party line that now is not the time to “politicize” the shootings in Las Vegas.

That type of gap between what the public wants and what federal lawmakers do helps explain why Congress has a dismal 16 percent approval rating.

There is ample evidence that you can say the same about the Utah Legislature.

Activists are gathering signatures to put five initiatives on the 2018 ballot dealing with proposals that appear to enjoy widespread support among Democrats and Republicans but have been largely ignored by the Legislature.

Let’s look at each proposal and the disparity between what Utahns want and what the Legislature does.

Medicaid expansion • A Brigham Young University poll in 2014 showed that 76 percent of Utahns favored a significant expansion of Medicaid, covering most low-income families and individuals who otherwise could not get insurance. Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah, covering 111,000 needy Utahns, had 43 percent approval while then-President Barack Obama’s more extensive Affordable Care Act plan had 33 percent approval, which means three-fourths of Utahns wanted a significant expansion.

Only 11 percent backed the Legislature’s plan, which would have covered 54,000. Since then, the Capitol gang became even more stingy, finally passing a plan that would covers far fewer.

So the group Utah Decides Healthcare filed papers with the lieutenant governor’s office this week to gather signatures for a ballot measure that would expand Medicaid to about 120,000 disadvantaged Utahns.

Medical Marijuana • A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll from July showed that 77 percent of Utah voters somewhat or strongly support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

So the group, Utah Patients Coalition began gathering signatures in August to get the proposal on the ballot after repeated efforts failed to get the measure passed in the Legislature.

Redistricting • A UtahPolicy.com poll two years ago found that 65 percent of Utahns want an independent commission to handle the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts every 10 years.

Critics long have complained that the Legislature manipulates the boundaries to favor its GOP supermajority. They point out that Republicans generally get around 63 percent of the total vote but control more than 80 percent of the seats in the Legislature and have all four seats in the state’s U.S. House delegation.

So a new political issues committee, Utahns for Responsive Government, is pushing a ballot initiative to shift redistricting responsibilities to an independent panel. Expect the Legislature to do everything it can to block that initiative drive.

Education funding • A new poll shows the Our Schools Now ballot initiative enjoys solid backing as it seeks a spot on the 2018 ballot.

A majority of registered Utah voters — 57 percent — said they either “somewhat” or “strongly” support a proposal to raise roughly $700 million for public education through a combination of income and sales tax hikes.

That backing points to frustration with the Legislature’s level of funding for public schools. Lawmakers already have been pushing back against this education push.

Count My Vote • This campaign might explain the disconnect between elected legislators and their constituents over the previous four issues. It is a fight between those who want wider voter participation in selecting party candidates and those who want to preserve a system that allows a small group of delegates chosen in neighborhood caucuses to pick nominees and ultimately, because of Republican dominance in Utah, eventual officeholders.

The Count My Vote group was well on its way to gathering enough signatures for a ballot initiative to change the electoral system to direct primaries in 2014, when the Legislature struck a compromise that allows candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot or go through the caucus/convention process or both.

But the Republican Party has filed lawsuits and appeals to repeal that hybrid system and revert to only the caucus/convention system.

Many current legislators were chosen by that narrow system, often winning outright at the convention and bypassing primaries altogether. Arguably, they are more beholden to a narrow group of extremists who get elected as delegates than to the wider public. Hence, the difference between the public’s wishes on these issues and the Legislature’s actions.

Because of GOP recalcitrance toward the current compromise, Count My Vote is back at it. If it succeeds, candidates would be chosen by direct primaries only.

And maybe, eventually, those other desires on Utahns’ wish lists then would be addressed.