In a defeat for the far-right faction of the state Republican Party, the organization's central committee endorsed a winner-takes-all approach to allocating delegates to Republican presidential candidates.
The decision is significant since Utah has never had a presidential primary before, and Republicans have not had to commit to a candidate until convention time itself. However, the first Utah presidential primary is coming up in March 2000.Various proposals for proportioning the state's 29 delegates in different districts and in different percentages were offered at the committee's meeting on Saturday, but each was voted down during the three-hour session.
The hotly debated issue of whether to "proportion" delegates has been forced to a vote four times in the past several months in committee meetings and at the state convention.
Saturday's session effectively ends the matter since the party must, by the end of this month, inform the lieutenant governor's office and the Republican National Committee about how Utah Republicans plan to conduct their elections.
"This is a whole new ball game. We had no script and no previous experience," said party chairman Rob Bishop.
More moderate Republicans rejoiced at the idea that Utah's delegates would not be divided at the national convention and would carry more clout as a united group. But ultra conservatives warned that the move could open the door to policy stands and vice presidential running mates whose views are contrary to those of most Utahns on key issues such as abortion.
Bishop said the meeting was difficult for him because he has spent the past few weeks trying to broker a compromise that all party members could feel comfortable with, but that didn't work. He will spend some time mending fences with those who are unhappy with the outcome and urged all Republicans to focus on the big picture.
"Our goal is to make sure we are firmly on an 18-month election (schedule) for president and Congress and to maintain control in the state of Utah for the sake of the citizens," Bishop said.
Quoting the new president of Germany, Johannes Rau, Bishop said Utah Republicans would do well to consider Rau's slogans which are: "Reconcile rather than divide" and "Unite and create policy."
"I'm glad of the vote," said U.S. Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah. "Given Utah's small size, we've empowered our presidential delegates with the decision today. The 29 delegates Utah will send will have a bit more power because of this and that will benefit (U.S. Sen.) Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) or (Texas Gov.) George W. Bush."
Another Republican from Washington County agreed. "We have worked very hard to get a voice for ourselves in national politics and proportioning votes will dilute it," said Steve Urkehart. "If we divide our votes, we don't have a voice in national politics."
Other speakers said that if Utah had a bloc of 29 delegates and an early primary, candidates would be forced to come here and pay attention to Utah issues as well as remember Utah once in office.
However, Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Eagle Forum, disliked the winner-take-all approach because delegates to national conventions go there bound by the vote of the people they represent.
"If it's winner-take-all, how representative is that?" she asked.
She also said that conventions are chock full of wheeling and dealing and that there is more at stake that just the selection of a presidential candidate. People must remember that platform positions are carved out and vice presidential candidates also are chosen -- often at the last minute, at the convention. It's possible that these could include views that would be at odds with those held by most Utahns, she said.
"We may not want to cast all 29 of our votes for a pro-abortion candidate," Ruzicka said.
In other business, the committee voted to allow all registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters requesting a Republican ballot to vote in the Republican presidential primary.
Opponents said Democrats could "sabotage" Republican elections by being able to participate. One compromise proposal suggested that anyone could vote in the Republican election, but only the votes of registered Republicans would be counted.
However, State Rep. John Swallow, R-Sandy, disagreed with that idea. "We're the party of inclusiveness. We don't want to exclude voters who might vote Republican," Swallow said. "We want to be known as the party with welcome arms for anyone who wants to vote for our candidate."