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TOO BAD GOP FAILED TO HOLD A PRIMARY

Utah Democratic Party leaders should be complimented for conducting a presidential primary this week.

More than 31,000 Utahns voted, three times the number who showed up to Democratic Party mass meetings in 1988. Greater political involvement by citizens should always be praised.Utah GOP leaders decided not to hold a primary vote. They have some defensible reasons for that. But they should have taken some chances this year and held a primary anyway.

According to Dave Hansen, executive director of the Utah party, Utah delegates to the Republican National Convention will be picked as usual - the major candidates will put forth a slate of delegates in the state GOP convention, and convention delegates will pick those who go to Houston this August.

Such an in-house process is certainly defensible. Remember, choosing a party presidential candidate is a decision party members should make.

But opening up the process, like Utah Democrats did, also has its advantages. For one thing, ordinary people feel they are involved, have a say.

The Utah Bush/Qualye committee will hand-pick its slate of national delegates and alternates, and most likely the state GOP convention will rubber-stamp that decision.

Rank and file Republicans will have little or no say. Yes, they can attend local mass meetings April 27. At those meetings state delegates will be picked. A candidate for state delegate may well promise to vote for the Bush slate in the state convention.

But the GOP process is at least two steps removed from the rank-and-file party member, and the convention ballot is secret in any case, so even promises made in a party mass meeting may not be kept.

Given the alternative, I think most Republicans in Utah would like to have a presidential primary. We'll see if the Democrats' success this year will force a change for the Republicans in 1996.

- Strange things happen the last days of the Utah Legislature, when the budget is finally put together and millions of surplus dollars are allocated.

While the decisions are usually made above board - although in great haste - this year saw a very unpleasant occurrence, almost a devious action.

Legislative leaders were anxious to avoid a direct vote on a pari-mutuel betting bill introduced by House Rules Committee Chairman Dave Adams, R-Monticello.

They were pleased when Adams, mainly to appease the horse racing industry, introduced a new bill, one that would take state monies and use them to oversee and subsidize the racing industry. Trouble was, the new bill cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. GOP leaders feared taking the money from other needy programs to help horse racers, who weren't winning any friends among lawmakers by threatening to take their gambling issue to the people via an initiative petition if they didn't get Adams' revised bill.

During hearings on the Agriculture Department's budget earlier in the session, fees charged to pesticide producers were raised significantly, from $15 to $50 for each pesticide approved for use in the state.

Some of the new money was placed in the department's budget, but most of the extra cash would just flow into the state's general fund.

Adams was hunting around for $300,000 to pay for his new horse racing bill and quickly spotted the pesticide money. That's not unusual at all. Often, lawmakers who want a new program come up with some fee increase or some other revenue enhancing gimmick to pay for it - that greatly helps the bill's chances of passage.

Adams tried to glom onto the pesticide fees. Trouble was, there wasn't enough money left over to pay for what he wanted. Worse, other legislative leaders were eyeing the pesticide money for other - maybe more worthy - projects.

So Adams got together with Senate Majority Leader Cary Peterson, R-Nephi, who also wanted to help his horse industry constituents.

In one of the many quick votes taken in the Executive Appropriations Committee hearing that set the final budget, Peterson moved that the pesticide fees be increased from the new $50 level to $80. He didn't explain where the fees would be going. The motion passed.

The watching public had no idea that pesticide fees were being raised to help the horse racing industry.

This is not the way Utah's government should be operated, not the way the budget should be put together and not the way to convince the public that lawmakers are conducting the state's business in an appropriate manner.

Backroom deals have to be made the final days of the session, otherwise the budget would probably never be balanced before adjournment. But those deals should properly be explained in public hearings as the process goes forward. The lack of explanation could have been the result of time demands or just an oversight. Next time, more care should be taken.