I have a message for the purists on the Republican Party State Central Committee:
Let it go.
Look, I get it. In my opinion, SB54 is an unconstitutional law. Legislators, in a misguided attempt to save the caucus system, codified the demise of the very system responsible for most of their own success.
But that’s just my opinion. Two courts of law have decided that the law is actually OK.
There’s still another chance. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals may decide that we’re right after all. But until they do, let it go.
I’m speaking, of course, of the coup held this past weekend to enact yet another rule change. (These hard-right activists are probably tickled that I called it a coup. It was a carnival, really.)
How about a rule change that says you can’t keep changing the rules??
On Saturday, minority members of the GOP State Central Committee met and enacted a bylaw change that demands that any candidate who uses the signature path will automatically forfeit his membership in the party until at least the day after the next election.
In other words, any candidate who uses the signature path isn’t a member of the party, and therefore can’t be a candidate of the party. (They illogically and unconstitutionally enacted the provision only for the 1st and 2nd congressional districts. Don’t ask.)
This minority group of flame-throwers is trying to set up the perfect scenario for another lawsuit. U.S. District Judge David Nuffer hinted in the first lawsuit that the party can control its membership however it wants. And the Utah Supreme Court mentioned in the second lawsuit that the circumstances weren’t ripe to decide whether a party can exclude a candidate from the ballot via a membership designation until the party actually ejects someone.
So it needs someone to eject. Rep. Rob Bishop? Rep. Chris Stewart? Volunteers?
As it stands now, the party only requires 27 people from the approximately 180-person central committee to enact a bylaw change. That’s because it requires a majority of a quorum, and a quorum could be as small as 40 members.
There are almost 629,000 active, registered Republicans in Utah, and 486,900 unaffiliated voters. And 40 people can call a quorum of the dominant party and change the way candidates are elected, most recently in a nefarious attempt to disqualify good Republicans who follow the law.
Like I said, I was on the other side of this issue not long ago. I was counsel for the party for a short period during the beginning phases of the litigation against SB54. (I withdrew from the case because I didn’t want to be associated with the lack of civility on both sides.)
And we’ve already seen the problems associated with professional signature-gatherers. A man working for the Gather company has been charged with forging signatures on citizen ballot initiatives in Weber County.
But no system is perfect. The caucus system was too exclusive. It didn’t allow for primaries in races where credible challengers could have made a difference to the larger Republican base.
But the caucus system does provide a way onto the ballot for those without name recognition and/or money, if their message resonates with delegates. And that’s a worthwhile opportunity.
Both paths have merit, and both are better than either one alone.
There, I said it.
The party enjoyed a big victory in the first lawsuit when the court found that the Legislature could not force the party to allow unaffiliated members to vote in its primary election.
But other than that win, the party has lost, repeatedly.
There’s no question that the Utah Republican Party has the right to define its own membership. It can be as inclusive or exclusive as it desires.
But regardless of how it defines membership, if the Utah GOP wants its candidates on the ballot next to the organization’s name, it has to follow state law. And whether it’s a registered political party or a qualified political party, the law requires it to allow candidates to gather signatures to get on the primary ballot.
And that’s what the court is going to say if these minority, divisive central committee members push forward with this asinine plan to pursue another lawsuit.
You’re welcome. I just saved the party $200,000. I’ll send my bill.
Michelle Quist is an editorial writer for the Salt Lake Tribune who thinks extremist GOP party members are acting like her toddlers before they get a timeout.