By Christopher Larson
SALT LAKE CITY – Members of the Utah GOP have introduced legislation that seeks to nullify a compromise struck in last year’s legislative session and change Utah’s closed caucus system.
According to Curtis Haring,editor who has followed the issue since its inception, SB43 seeks to undo the most divisive part of last year’s compromise, officially known as SB54 and commonly referred as the Count My Vote compromise. Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is sponsoring SB43.
“The main goal of (SB43) is to step back what many opposed to the Count My Vote compromise . . . (and) felt was the most egregious—requiring political parties to open up primaries to unaffiliated voters,” Haring said. “This is the most contentious portion of SB54, and was the portion that Count My Vote and its supporters fought the hardest for.”
GOP threats of a federal lawsuit circulated upon the inception of the compromise. The Utah GOP filed the lawsuit in December despite the statements made in a March GOP news release saying the actions of the legislators were made in good faith and in the best interest of the state.
The Utah GOP has now come out in open opposition to the compromise. Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, championed SB54 that required all political parties to have an open primary where candidates got on the party ballot by collecting signatures and allowing anyone to vote in that primary while removing the traditional caucus system. The bill faced a last-minute compromise that kept the old caucus system but still kept the open primary requirement.
SB54 supporters across party lines are disappointed that the Utah GOP has made the decision to back away from the compromise and believe that the lawsuit will not have its desired effect.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said that he will not support SB43 and thinks the lawsuit will go nowhere.
“We made a commitment and I am going to honor that commitment,” Weiler said. “Their best argument is that their logo cannot be used on the state ballots without their permission . . . I’m not convinced they’ll win anything else.”
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Carroon, said in an email, “We believe the Republican Party should honor the compromise enacted in SB54, and not now turn its back on what it promised. I am not sure why Senator Jenkins is acting now. It is unfortunate that the Republican Party and its elected officials would turn its back on the compromise they entered into.”
Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said that, while he would like to see more people involved politically, the conflict is a bit silly.
“It’s really not a big deal in my opinion,” Hinkins said. “If people really want to vote all they have to do is register Republican . . . and if they want to stay unaffiliated they can withdraw from being a Republican after the primaries are over. (Unaffiliated voters) don’t like the Democrats or the Republicans. I don’t know why they would bother picking Republican candidates. But I can see the Republicans saying, ‘We don’t want people who are not Republicans picking our candidate.’ ”
But Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, said it isn’t that simple. He sees the lawsuit as a redress of a violation of liberty.
“People understand that they can’t tell the PTA who to elect without becoming part of the organization,” Boyack said in an emailed statement. “ Why do they consider political parties different? If a person wants to support or oppose a party’s nominee, then logic dictates that they should affiliate with that party to have a say in it.”
Weiler pointed out in his interview that the state makes the laws, not the parties.
“They have pitted their rights as a non-profit political party against the rights of the state. The state is created by the U.S. Constitution. We are a sovereign entity. They are a non-profit organization,” Weiler said.