Utah Democrats Join Fight Over Utah’s Caucus and Nominating System

The 2012 Utah Democratic Convention
The 2012 Utah Democratic Convention

Two weeks ago, the Utah Republican State Central Committee overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to change the current caucus-system. Now, the Utah Democratic Party has announced that their delegates will make a decision of their own in June.

Utah’s caucus-system has been a point of contention over the past few years, primarily in the Republican Party between the Party establishment and tea party activists. The fight began wholeheartedly just after the 2010 elections, when a handful of tea partiers took over the majority of delegate slots, and ousted longtime US Senator Bob Bennett in favor of the more tea party leaning Mike Lee. Alarmed party insiders, including Kirk Jowers and former governor Mike Leavitt, immediately began a push back against the takeover, claiming it wasn’t right for a handful of extreme activists to be able to control which candidates make it onto the ballot.

In the 2012 election, US Senator Orrin Hatch, who was being challenged by tea party favorite Dan Liljenquist and was understandably worried that he might be ousted as well, reportedly spent several million dollars working to replace the more extreme delegates with moderate Republicans.

Until now, Utah Democrats have largely remained silent on the issue, with Senator Jim Dabakis (who also serves as the Party’s chairman) saying that the problem “is a Republican problem..”

But a press release this morning says that the Democrats may be jumping into the fight, and will have a straight up or down vote on whether to continue with caucus system or move to a direct primary at their convention in June. Dabakis says in the release:

“Utah Democrats must be the ones who decide the fate of their own party’s nomination system. Open debate and a transparent process have always been hallmarks of the Democratic Party… There has been a well-financed effort by a few Republican powerbrokers to change the current system to suit their own needs. We reject attempts to encourage UTah Democrats to bail out the Republican Party on this issue. If Utah’s GOP establishment does not have enough courage or respect for their delegates to let them decide their party’s fate at an open convention, they cannot expect Utah Democrats to rescue them.”

The subject of changing the caucus system isn’t done in the Republican Party by a long shot. According to Leavitt and Jowers, a ballot iniative is underway to push the changes through.

The Democratic Party has setup a website on the issue HERE.

2 Replies to “Utah Democrats Join Fight Over Utah’s Caucus and Nominating System

  1. One of the principles of those wanting to gut the neighborhood election caucus meeting and convention system we have in Utah, was this: ” A system that provides inherent advantages to those who are incumbent, wealthy or famous is not acceptable.”

    The problem is their proposals would do exactly that.

    The Caucus System in Utah is the best way to make sure grass roots movements can work over large amounts of money. It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2,000,000 in election funds.

    There were about 120,000 republicans in Utah that went to the neighborhood caucus elections in 2012 to elect the 4000 State Delegates. Add to those numbers the democrats and the primary elections. Certainly the municipal elections didn’t do any better in voter representation.

    Bypassing the Caucus / Convention System will NOT create more participation. There are 4000 GOP state delegates, many more county delegates and democratic party delegates that spend countless hours vetting candidates to be on the ballot. They are selected by those that attend the neighborhood election caucus meeting. You just have to attend.

    The current system does not protect the incumbent, wealthy or famous. I think that is a good thing.

  2. The 60% threshold to avoid a primary works, allowing a shot of a challenger to eliminate an incumbent and yet requires a challenger to be a strong candidate.

    Based on the state gop released stats since 2000 for state wide or congressional races, at 60%, threshold to avoid a primary, 47% of contested races went to primary. If at 2/3, 67% of contested races go to a primary and at 70%, 70% of the races go to primary.

    70% would not have helped Sen. Bennett in 2010. He was not in the top 2 coming out of convention. In fact the more moderate Tim Bridgewater was selected by 57% of the delegates in the last round. Mike Lee managed to get 43% and make it to a primary. Sen. Bennett endorsed Tim Bridgewater during the primary, but with voters ticked at TARP and ObamaCare, they went with Mike Lee.

    Sen. Hatch just barely missed eliminating Dan Liljenquist by hitting just under the 60%, and Jason Chaffetz just missed eliminating Chris Cannon by hitting just under 60%.

    The current system does not protect the incumbent, wealthy or famous. I think that is a good thing.

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