After this year's experience at the Weber County Republican Convention, I had some time to reflect on what happened and what it means for the future of politics in Northern Utah and the State at large.
Three Republican candidates submitted their names to run for the County Commission seat up for grabs this election cycle. Brad Dee, Caitlin Gouchner, and Jim Harvey threw their hats into the ring. In a typical year, the three names would be winnowed down to one by delegates elected to attend the County Republican Convention. That process looks something like this:
However, this year is the first year that elections are being held under the new rules implemented by the infamous SB54 (which I voted for) passed in 2014. The bill was a panicked response by the Legislature to a ballot initiative sponsored by former Gov. Leavitt and ilk (known as County My Vote or CMV) that threatened to abolish the caucus-convention process entirely an favor of an expensive-to-access Primary Election process. The Legislature recognized the grassroots value of the Caucus-Convention system and, in an effort to preserve it, compromised with Mr. Leavitt. The compromise also entailed permitting candidates to get on a party's primary election ballot via signature gathering in lieu of passing through the Caucus-Convention system. Strangely, the law permits candidates to pursue both options if they choose to.
The problems with the new law quickly became apparent at yesterday's convention. As is the case with may races around the state this year, the three candidates for Weber County Commissioner also pursued the signature route and collected enough signatures to place them on the primary ballot for the party. Such a tactic acted as an insurance policy for each candidate against being eliminated at the Convention.
At this point you might be saying, what is the point of a Convention then? If so, you aren't alone. Many of the delegates expressed this exact frustration as they realized that the vote they cast didn't make a difference in who would appear in a Primary. Indeed, if the Convention had had its way, there woudn't be any primary election at all this year and Jim Harvey would go straight to the General Election. The other candidates would have gone home to eat a bowl of chocolate ice cream and watch reruns of Seinfeld. But, that isn't the case this year.
Now, each candidate is bloodied, bruised, and poised to launch a new round of campaigning to the general population. Each candidate's strengths and weaknesses were exposed at the Convention. I anticipate they will be exploited vividly.
The traditional convention-caucus system is the best means of placing the electorate close to their elected officials. It is a sloppy process, just like any democratic system, but it provides the best means of tying the people to their political leaders. It must be preserved. The Count My Vote dream of a primary-election-only process threatens to turn Utah politics over to an affluent and insulated aristocracy. With the signature gathering process already showing its ability to seriously undermine the potency of Convention decision making, the Party Convention results are swiftly falling to the lowly status of glorified straw poll. May Utahns be vigilant and the Legislature valiant in its efforts to preserve our Caucus-Convention system.