David R. Irvine: How to tell the conservatives from the archconservatives in Davis County

How do the legislative candidates stand on school vouchers and SB54?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ray Ward talks to delegates, at the Davis County Republican nominating convention at Farmington High School, on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

As south Davis County is a one-party Republican community, the June 28 primary election is the only election that really matters. This primary is not only where the nomination hangs in the balance for the U.S. Senate, but for seats in the Utah Legislature as well.

If you are an unaffiliated voter — that is, a voter who is not currently registered with a political party — you can still request a Republican ballot by contacting the County Clerk not later than June 17.

In Centerville, Bountiful and North Salt Lake, there are three well-qualified mainstream conservative Republican candidates for the Utah House of Representatives — Paul Cutler, Ray Ward and Melissa Ballard — each being challenged by archly right-wing candidates.

It can be challenging to discern extremist candidates, but there are some pretty reliable indicators, and Bountiful’s House District 19 is an example. Two Republican medical doctors, both of whom are good people. Both say they support educators and public education. Both say they best represent community values.

Two issues are more usefully reflective of political ideology than any others, and on these the candidates are on opposite sides. On both issues, the public’s support for one side over the other has been consistently clear.

Issue one: Should public school tax money be used to support private schools?

In 2007, the voters soundly rejected a voucher bill passed by the Legislature that would have siphoned tax money away from public schools to private schools. In 2022, HB331 proposed transferring $36 million per year from public schools to private schools, but called the transfers “Hope Scholarships” rather than vouchers. But it’s the same raid on public school money.

The bill was soundly defeated, and Ray Ward’s no vote contrasts sharply with Lyle Mason’s “I would oppose vouchers, but support the Hope Scholarship idea as an alternative.” Respectfully, that statement is a non sequitur, because they are the same thing. Public opinion is squarely on Ward’s side.

Issue two: Should the caucus/convention process be the sole route to political candidate nominations?

The Count My Vote initiative petition in 2014, which would have eliminated conventions altogether and replaced them with direct primaries, was well on the way to victory in the general election. Fearful that it would pass, the Republican legislature and governor reached a compromise with the CMV sponsors, which created the dual-path convention and signature process we have today via SB54.

The issue is straight-forward: who is more likely to represent the will of party voters? The tiny fraction who are elected as convention delegates or the larger population slice in a primary election? Again and again, the larger mass of Republicans vastly prefers more mainstream candidates to the red-meat ideologues cheered on by convention delegates. The farther to the right, the greater the opposition to SB54.

Ward has voted to retain SB54. Mason has said he’ll vote to overturn it. Public opinion strongly favors SB54.

Mason proudly touts the endorsement of former House Speaker Greg Hughes, who was a strong proponent of the 2007 school voucher bill. That movement has never given up.

This is not a primary where anyone can sit on the sidelines and assume their vote will not make a difference. If you live in south Davis County and feel our legislature is too liberal, there are three genuine archconservatives running for the House. If an even more conservative legislature gives you heartburn, there are three Republican mainstream conservatives who’ll better represent you. Paul Cutler, Ray Ward and Melissa Ballard.

| Courtesy David Irvine

David Irvine is a lawyer and a former four-term Republican legislator from Bountiful.