Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Utah GOP's Improbable Quest Through Middle Earth




It was interesting to watch the latest iteration in the Utah GOP's struggle to find itself as the party's State Central Committee met last week to wrestle over the fate of its current lawsuit against the state over SB54.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on the meeting.

For those of you just tuning in, here is a brief recap of what's going on:

The Utah Republican Party has been in control of its internal process of vetting candidates via the Caucus/Convention system.  The caucus is a meeting of local party members who elect delegates.  A convention is a meeting of delegates who elect candidates to go on the ballot.  Simple enough.

However, within (and without) the party are critics who claim that the Republican delegates elected are far too conservative or ideological.  These moderate forces complain that the delegates then choose candidates who don't represent the public at large.  They cite the Harrod/Curtis dust up in the recent Congressional District 3 race as a prime example.

Within the moderate Republican crowd is a group of subversives known as County My Vote.  This group has sought to eliminate the Caucus/Convention system entirely and replace it with access to the ballot via signature gathering.  This system essentially favors well funded candidates by default since it takes so much money to campaign successfully in such a system.

County My Vote threatened to obliterate the Caucus Convention System in 2014 and so to avoid that the Legislature created a "dual" path to the ballot that accommodated signature gathering while preserving the CC system.  The Utah Republican Party did not like that compromise and sued the state.  The party spent $300,000 of money it did not have to push the lawsuit.  A final appeal to the suit is due in court in a couple weeks from today.  Meanwhile CMV is rattling sabers again threatening to blow CC out of the water with another ballot initiative.  At last week's meeting, the State Central Committee failed to take a vote as the meeting ended in deadlock between moderates and stalwart Republicans.



This whole scene reminds me of Frodo's quest to destroy the ring of power in the film Lord of the Rings.  For a long time, the Utah Republican Party has had exclusive power to decide upon its candidates.  This ultimate power (the ring) has slowly distorted the party over time.  Like Smeagol, who spent too much time isolated and alone with the ring and transmogrified into Gollum, this exclusive possession has imbued party enthusiasts with a potentially lethal lack of self-awareness. That, in turn, has blinded them to the forces that prove to be a looming existential threat.

In the film, Frodo and his hobbit pals recognize that the ring in its current form has too much power.  It is jealously desired by Sauron and his legion of Orc goons.  Meanwhile, Gollum is loath to let the ring out of his own grasp and lashes out at Frodo and crew in exasperation.

The uneasy partnership between Frodo and Gollum is unpleasantly resolved in the end of the film. The uneasy alliance between moderate republicans and their tunnel-visioned counterparts may have a similar ending.  While die-hard republicans fix their gaze on "precious", CMV threatens to unleash their army of signature gathering orcs to annihilate all of them.

How will this end?  The path is long and wrought with peril. It may be that the forces of Mount Doom prevail and make Utah politics an exclusive realm of the moneyed interests.  I certainly hope not.  But Frodo and his hobbit kin of moderate Caucus/Convention supporting Republicans need to stand up and speak up if they are to raise the alarm and successfully navigate the pitfalls that are to come.      

Monday, August 7, 2017

NCSL Boston: The Freedom Trail


We recently arrived in Boston for the National Conference of State Legislators 2017 Summit.  We took some time before meetings started to visit some of the important places in American history.  Our path took us along The Freedom Trail

Boston Common

Our trip started in the historic Boston Common.  This 40+ acre site has never been developed since pilgrim times and has served as a symbol of American political self-reliance since its creation.  The British military exploited this symbolism by occupying the space in 1768.  The open green space is full of monuments and also surrounded by other parks and important landmarks.




The State House



This amazing building is found on Beacon Hill.  The Massachusetts Legislature comprises of 160 members in the House and 40 members of the Senate.  The building was completed in 1798 at a cost of $133,000.


Park Street Church



Our next stop was Park Street Church which was a center of Abolitionist activity and served as a local gathering place.


The Granary Burying Ground

Behind the Park Street Church is a graveyard that holds the bodies of thousands of people (mostly stacked on top of each other).  Notable people include John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Ben Franklin's parents.






These table top boxes are actually stairways to subterranean tombs.




King's Chapel

The pilgrims were Puritans.  Later, Episcopalians arrived in Boston and wanted a chapel as a place to worship.  Since the Puritans wouldn't sell their neighbors any good place to build a chapel, the King ordered a chapel built in a cemetery.  The first chapel was wood.  Then in 1749 this granite structure was constructed outside of it and the original was dismantled.







The Old South Meeting House

This beautiful edifice was the scene of public outcry immediately prior to the dumping of tea into the sea during the Boston Tea Party.



The Old State House

The Old State House was where the Declaration of Independence was announced and read to residents from the balcony.






The Boston Massacre

Outside the Old State House is the site of the Boston Massacre.



Faneuil Hall

Once a large indoor market, this landmark has been converted back into use as such.



 
Paul Revere's House

Paul Revere's home was constructed in 1680 and is the oldest standing structure in the city.



Old North Church

The Old North Church was the site where the lamps were hung from the steeple according to Paul Revere's instructions "One if by land, two if by sea."




USS Constitution

The USS Constitution was closed to the public, but it was still amazing to see this ship in person.



Bunker Hill Memorial

The Bunker Hill Memorial honors the first battle of the Revolutionary War.  The obelisk is over 220 feet tall and can be climbed to the top.





The views from the top are amazing.  Here is a view of the USS Constitution and Boston Harbor.



If you ever visit Boston, the Freedom Trail is a must.  The trail is about 2.7 miles from one end to the other and makes for a great walk through downtown Boston. The city is clean and rich to experience in so many ways.  




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

OFFSIDES: Legislature Throws Flag on Guv's Special Election



So, a lot of hullabaloo has been made in the press lately about the Legislature's grievances with the way Governor Herbert chose to execute a Special Election to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Congressman Jason Chaffetz.


The state constitution and statute clearly give power for setting election law to the Legislature.  Without getting into the weeds on this subject (and they are deep and thick) the bottom line is that the Legislature believes the Governor violated statute by moving forward with the Special Election.  But, to agitate the grumpy Legislature even more, it also appears that the Governor's office blocked a legal opinion requested by the Legislature from the Attorney General's office from being delivered to the Legislature.  This particular action by the Governor's office is unprecedented in Utah history.   


So, the question is what does the Legislature do about it?  There are several scenarios:

The Legislature Throws a Monkey Wrench in the Works

It is possible that the Legislature could file a lawsuit and put a stop to the Special Election under the premise that Congressman Chaffetz's House Seat is not vacant.  A vacancy is required first in order to initiate a special election.  In this scenario, the efforts of the candidates, delegates, and state parties up to this point would all be for naught.  The Special Election as it has occurred would grind to a halt until Chaffetz officially ended his tenure and then the process could begin again.  

This scenario is very disruptive and would make the make the Legislature look bad.  While the separation of powers issue is very important, the perceived tit-for-tattiness of it all would smack of political gamesmanship in the eyes of the public.   

The Legislature's Cousin Throws a Monkey Wrench in the Works

Another scenario is that a grieved third party outside of the Legislature may file suit and bring the Special Election to a halt.  Who would this person be?  Ask Jim Bennett with United Utah how he feels about his arbitrary mistreatment.  While Jim's lawsuit will not put a stop to the election, there are still 10 days left of anyone with a beef about the process to file suit.  If that happens, the Special Election could get scrapped and the Legislature is likely called into a Special Session by the Governor to write the rules on a new Special Election.  

This scenario is also very disruptive and would cause a lot of Xanax prescriptions to be written.  The Legislature would likely consider itself vindicated, however.

The Legislature Waits Oh, So Patiently...for Revenge

The most likely scenario, in my view, is that nothing happens right now.  The Special Election proceeds as planned.  Meanwhile, the Legislature toils away in the bill foundry and forges a tall stack of veto-proof bills to pass in the 2018 General Session.  

In this scenario, the public is fine with the work of the Legislature. Although, the media may make attempts to vilify its efforts to clarify the separation of powers issue and the its efforts to reign in some of the authority of the Governor.  Such efforts could likely include giving the Legislature the ability to call itself into special session if the need arises (presently only the Governor can do that), clarifying Special Election law, and potentially some other issues.  

For sure, the Governor wouldn't be happy.  But not to worry, the Legislature would be ecstatic.

What Now?

For now, we watch and wait to see what happens as the calendar days pass.  Once we get to a certain point on the calendar, it will be very difficult for the monkey wrench scenarios to play out.  Which means that the Legislature will be left to tap its fingertips together, offer up an wry grin, and  menacingly laugh in anticipation of the 2018 Session.  

    




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Curious Conservative Case for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

During the 2017 General Session, I drafted a resolution supporting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  The resolution was intended to be a bi-partisan effort to bring attention to the problems afflicting our current presidential election process and to demonstrate Utah's leadership on the issue.  Unfortunately, the partisan rancor immediately following the election prevented us from moving forward as we have waited for passions and sentiment to temper.

It appears now that the the time has come to again address this issue and begin a conversation on this important subject.  So, let us begin.

WHAT IS THE NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE INTERSTATE COMPACT?

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is actually very simple in its premise.  The Compact is an agreement between states.  In this case, the agreement deals with how Electoral Votes from the Electoral College are awarded to presidential candidates based on how voters vote in the presidential race.  Presently, in most states, the Legislatures of the various states have directed all their Electoral Votes to be cast in favor of the candidate that receives the popular vote in that state (aka Winner-Take-All).  So, if a presidential candidate receives 51% of the popular vote, the candidate receives 100% of the Electoral Votes.  The NPVIC provides states with an alternative to this status quo by volunteering to assign their Electoral Votes to the winner of the national popular vote rather than the winner of the individual state.

WHY WOULD ANY STATE WANT TO BE A PART OF THE NPVIC?

The NPVIC is designed to address several problems that currently exist in our presidential election process.  The first is that our present presidential elections and campaigns are geared to battleground states.  The dominant Winner-Take-All practice means that, in most states, the Electoral Votes are easy to predict due to wide margins in the popular vote of those states.  However, for a handful of states, the margins are too close to call.  These states then become battleground states and the focus of campaigning and messaging.  Indeed, campaign promises and policy are crafted mostly by candidates efforts to woo voters in swing battle ground states.

This intense attention to battleground states means that the other states, like Utah, are left out of the discussion.  The campaign promises and policy nuances that may win over voters in battleground states may actually work to the disadvantage of the other states.  Also, after the election these battle ground states perennially receive preferential treatment due to their lopsided clout.  For instance, when it comes to public lands issues, Colorado is much more likely to have their grievances addressed than Utah.  When it comes to receiving Federal waivers, Florida is more likely to receive a waiver than Utah.

The bottom line is that the NPVIC would put every state on an equitable standing when it comes to crafting and honing policy at the presidential level.

HOW DOES THE NPVIC MAKE EVERY STATE A BATTLE GROUND STATE?

The NPVIC is designed to "go live" once enough states have joined the compact to constitute 270 Electoral Votes among them.  Until that time, nothing changes. Hence, the urgency in having states like Utah join the compact to reach the 270 threshold.  Once the threshold is reached and the compact's provisions are implemented, it will award the 270 electoral votes to the presidential candidate that wins the national popular vote.

Since 270 electoral votes are required to win the presidency, the states that joined the compact would effectively change the way presidential campaigns and races are run for every state, even those that did not join the compact. If a candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win, and those electoral votes are awarded based on the outcome of the national popular vote, then candidates have an incentive to obtain every vote from every state possible to achieve that goal.  Thus, every state becomes a battleground state.  Clearly, this would be a dramatic difference from how things are run today.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF NPVIC?

  • Funds raised in the states for political purposes will stay in the states rather than being exported to current battle ground states.  
  • Voter participation would increase due to the importance of every single vote being cast to determine the winner.  
  • Presidential campaigns will have a presence in all states rather than just current battle ground states. 
  • Policy will be influenced by all states rather than just a few battle ground state.
  • Party nomination processes would seek candidates with the broadest appeal to Americans at large rather than candidates that merely play well to a battle ground state audience.  
  • and more!
For a great tutorial on this topic, this video does a great job explaining the concept:




Look for more information on this topic in the coming months.  The resolution is currently being drafted and will be presented for discussion in the 2018 General Session.  If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to me.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Of Death, Dying, and Our Memorial



Death is an immovable force.  It punctuates our life experience and renders it complete.  It terminates our life work and delivers it ready for judgement by peers and posterity.  Some die in glory and honor while others pass in ignominy.  Sadly, most of us expire in anonymity.

Annually, we honor our progenitors and our protectors who have gone before us.  Our veterans died for a cherished idea we call America.  Our police men died to protect the law and order that binds our society together.  Our firefighters died protecting lives and livelihoods.  They have all offered up their bodies as a sacrifice in our stead.

Whether it be early or late, there will be no escape for us from death's reach.  Thus, the inevitability of our physical demise begs the question of us all.  What is worth dying for?

In the final analysis, God, family, and country are the pillars that elevate a death regardless of its timing; and, it is these same pillars which form the foundation of what makes life worth living.

On this Memorial Day, may we ponder the lives of those who have gone before us.  If we must ever risk our own lives, let be said of us that our valor was noble and our causes just.  If we are privileged to live out our lives in peace, may generations hence speak of our good deeds.  Such is said of all those who dedicate their lives to honorable and worthy pursuits.    
   

Friday, April 28, 2017

Weber GOP Organizing Convention 2017



Weber County GOP Delegates met to elect new executive and legislative district leadership.


We went through several rounds of balloting to reach a verdict.  Here are the results:

COUNTY PARTY
Chair- Lynda Pipkin
Vice Chair - Chris Jenkins
Secretary - Linsey Ohlin
Treasurer - Stu Jensen


LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT 9
Chair - Matt Westrich
Vice Chair - Doug Nandell
Secretary - Libby Shelton
Treasurer - Rosalie Beeli


Congrats to the winners!  It is a labor of love to work in the party and we all appreciate their efforts.



RAILROADED: Our Historic Locomotive Ride to Ogden With Union Pacific


Union Pacific recently brought one of the last operating steam engine trains to Ogden for display.  To bring more attention to the event, they invited dignitaries from Northern Utah to ride along with them from Brigham City to Ogden.  It was a fun experience.





The train depot on Forest Rd. in Brigham City is beautifully preserved.  


Many folks came to learn more about railroad history.


We rode on a 1950's era train car with 360 degree views.  I was impressed with the spaciousness of the train car (and the leg room).







We arrived at Ogden's Historic Union Station to a throng of onlookers, media, and railroad enthusiasts.  However, the experience did leave one unanswered question in my mind.  The Frontrunner station was placed two blocks to the north bypassing Union Station.  Why wasn't Union Station used? 

In my view, we need to look at a plan to return Union Station back into full time use.  Obviously, it's not something that can be done easily, but something that is definitely worth it.  Restoring Union Station to full time use would restore the natural rhythms of Ogden's Historic 25th St. and make Ogden a more welcoming destination from across the Wasatch Front.