SALT LAKE CITY - Claiming a statewide initiative to eliminate the caucus system is a gun to the head of political parties, a Utah County lawmaker is running legislation he says finds a middle ground preserving the caucus system, but also makes citizen participation easier.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, used a Friday committee meeting to outline an attempted compromise between Count My Vote and the state's major political parties, which voted at recent conventions to retain the caucus system. Count My Vote contends the caucus/convention system is exclusionary and wants to move to a primary system.
The bill, SB 54, contains the following provisions:
---it adds a two-day window to the caucus process
---the legislation would put steps in place for each precinct to have representation at a state convention, if a delegate can't make it
---the bill would remove the requirement to check a box for unaffiliated voters to participate in a primary
---parties would have a higher threshold at conventions for a candidate to avoid a primary
---contains exact language from Count My Vote in its entirety
Committee members gave the bill a favorable recommendation, moving it to the full Senate, even though there were significant concerns.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said the Utah Constitution puts the right of voters to generate a referendum or initiative on the ballot as equal to the power of the Legislature. He said the bill is probably flawed because it dictates the threshold for parties to set, which a candidate must reach to avoid a primary and it also is flawed in dealing with the right to assemble, outlined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The one-hour hearing drew spirited debate on both sides.
Former Cache County Councilman Wayne Beck said the state has no right to be dictating how a party chooses its candidates.
That brought a critical response from Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, a member of the committee who pointed out the state funds political primaries.
GOP central committeeman Dave Duncan, representing his own viewpoint, said he applauds Bramble's effort to tackle the problem but said changing the threshold for a party to select a candidate is a fatal flaw as well as extending the caucus window for participation.
Former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist spoke in favor of the legislation, calling it a reasonable compromise. "This is a system worth preserving," Liljenquist said.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, Spanish Fork, also praised the bill and said the caucus system is worth preserving.
"Part of the argument against the caucus system is that it suppresses women. I concur that we need more women to be involved, but I completely disagree with the premise that removing this grass roots system will somehow empower women. It will suppress women," she said.