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Don't delay SB54 — let the 2014 measure go forward

Senator, Orrin Hatch speaks to the Senate during the Utah State Legislature Friday, Jan. 31, 2014.
Senator, Orrin Hatch speaks to the Senate during the Utah State Legislature Friday, Jan. 31, 2014.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

We applaud the Utah Senate’s decision to reject a bill delaying the changes enacted by SB54, the 2014 measure that served as a compromise between the Count My Vote initiative supporters and those attempting to preserve Utah’s caucus system for electing candidates. It is a tribute to the political courage of Utah’s overwhelming Republican legislative majority that they were willing to ignore the political pressure from their own state party, which is doing everything it possibly can to thwart the implementation of a law that has broad support from the rank and file in both of Utah’s major political parties.

The Utah Republican Party was pushing for the delay on the grounds that they wouldn’t have enough time to comply with the SB54 changes in time for the 2014 elections. Yet even Republican lawmakers recognized this was just one more attempt to buy time to scuttle the new law by any means possible. Republican Party leadership has made it clear that repeal, not delay, is their ultimate goal, which is why they are fighting the compromise in federal court. Republican State Chairman James Evans has said that the law represents a “blatant disregard for our constitutional rights,” so it seems unlikely he would be satisfied with merely postponing the law’s effects for another election cycle.

When SB54 was passed, it diffused the growing movement to eliminate the caucus system altogether, which was the goal of the Count My Vote initiative drive. Should the Utah Republican Party leadership succeed in their efforts to stop the compromise, their actions would undoubtedly result in a renewed effort by Utah voters to bypass the party and take their case directly to voters with a ballot initiative. The end result of that effort would be a caucus-free system that would be even less palatable to the Republican leadership than the one designed by SB54, which continues the current caucuses but also allows candidates to gain access to a primary ballot by gathering signatures rather than being chosen by caucus delegates.

It is easy to understand why party leaders might balk at the SB54 changes, as they dilute the influence of party leaders in choosing candidates. But that’s precisely why so many Utahns support the compromise. The existing caucus system provides too much power to too few people, and it allows a highly motivated minority to hijack the process and put candidates on the ballot that are more ideologically extreme than the electorate at large. Republican leaders would do well to realize that they are fighting a losing battle here. Even if they were to temporarily succeed in their attempts to stop SB54, they won’t be able to stave off the clear will of the voters forever.