***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
There are no two ways around it, your opinion of Senator Scott Jenkins’ (Republican – Plain City) SB 43 – Closed Primary Amendments depends almost entirely on your opinion of last year’s SB 54 – Election Amendments.
Last year, one of the major battles on the hill surrounded the petition being circulated by Count My Vote (CMV). CMV was well on its way to being fully certified and appearing on last November’s ballot; however the legislature intervened in the closing days of the 2014 legislative session to craft a tenuous compromise that ultimately resulted in greater tension.
Adding to a layer of drama was the fact that the CMV issue is the near definition of insider baseball. The topic of who should appear on the ballot, though of extreme importance to our democracy, is largely a mechanical one that has more to do with intraparty politics than running the state – the average citizen does not know how candidates appear on their ballot, let alone why.
But, to paraphrase Robert Gehrke of the Salt Lake Tribune, the law that is most discussed and debated is the law that affects lawmakers directly – and this was the case with CMV and SB 54 last year. Since the closing of the last legislative session, the CMV issue has been simmering, ultimately boiling over early last month when the Utah GOP filed a lawsuit against the state demanding that SB 54 be overturned by the courts, with Republican leadership claiming that the state overstepped its bounds by dictating how political parties determine which candidates appear on the ballot.
This brings us to Jenkins’ SB 43. The bill removes two lines of the current law passed last year; in order for a political party to be official in the eyes of the state, that political party must allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections… the very elections that decide that will ultimately appear on the November ballot.
Jenkins has also told the Salt Lake Tribune that he intends to introduce a constitutional amendment that will remove SB 54 from the books entirely.
Because SB 43 is a bit of an odd duck that depends more on philosophical ideas rather than on hard facts and figures, SB 43 is hard to pin down. CMV supporters claim that Utah’s low voter turnout is due, in part, in voters not feeling that they are offered a choice on Election Day as candidates pander to the most extreme in a party in order to get elected, rather than to the will of the people. CMV opponents claim that it is little more than monied elites who grew concerned when grassroots campaigns that advanced through the current delegate process removed established and powerful lawmakers in a show of true democracy.
The simple and honest answer is that both sides are right. Utah does indeed have some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation, and it has been hypothesized that the reason for this is overall Republican dominance – though the connection to extreme candidates is a harder sell to make. It does appear that the current candidate selection process seems to be producing more extreme candidates than in years past as delegates become more entrenched in political ideologies that require litmus tests for candidates prior to making it out of convention.
On the flip side, CMV opponents are right to claim that CMV was largely supported by Republican political elites that grew concerned, in earnest, when Senator Mike Lee ousted longtime Utah Senator Bob Bennett during the tea-party flood of 2010. The Political Issues Committee, Alliance for Good Government, which officially sponsored CMV, received a total of 126 donations from 117 individuals in 2014 totaling nearly $732,800. This means that the average contribution was just under $6,265 per person, well outside the normal $10 to $25 contribution most can afford.
So, where does all this leave the analysis for SB 43? Because this is largely a philosophical battle, it is in the best interest of the citizens of the state to analyse the intent of those pushing for the change and why they wish to overturn the SB 54 compromise – and it is to this end that we grow concerned.
Jenkins, in the same Tribune article above, noted that, in his opinion, “SB54 created a compromise that hurt the party,” and that he felt that “…it’s our obligation as Republicans…to do the best we can to prevent that from being implemented.”
It is troubling that Jenkins appears to be more concerned with protecting his political party than with upholding the interests of the citizens of the State of Utah. It may be true that SB 54 was a bad law, it may be true that CMV does not represent the interests of the Republican Party as Jenkins sees it, and it may be true that Jenkins would be doing the state a great service by advancing this legislation, but it is disturbing to have Jenkins acknowledge that his motivation, at least in part, is to put the good of his party over the needs of the people.
It is for this reason that SB 43 should not advance during this legislative cycle. The tenuous compromise that was SB 54, which was voted on and approved by those representing the people, has not been given an opportunity to function. In many ways, Jenkins and others opposed to CMV are coming from a place of fear, not of fact – a place where poor policy decisions are ultimately made.
To contact Senator Jenkins, Click Here or call 801-731-5120
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