On Tuesday, Senator Scott Jenkins (Republican – Plain City) came out swinging as he presented SB 43 – Changes to Election Law by presenting an audio clip of former House member and current Congressman, Rob Bishop from 1994.
Twenty-one years ago Bishop presented a bill that was pushed by a Utah Supreme Court decision that looked at the extent the legislature could dictate the actions of political parties.
“Senate Bill 43 basically stops [Senate Bill] 54 of last year from being implemented until after the 2016 election. The purpose of that, from my point of view is so that the parties can get their house in order.”
Currently, the Utah Republican Party is suing the state to overturn SB 54, claiming that the party has not been given enough time to implement the new law and that the state is overreaching in party affairs. In a statement Jenkins read to the body, he noted that the Republican Party’s objections include candidates that are not Republicans could run as Republicans, that candidates could be on Republican ballot without receiving a single Republican signature of support, that candidates could be successful in a Republican primary without receiving a majority of primary votes, and that the county parties would have to get together in two weeks in order to change rules.
Jenkins also conveyed that Utah GOP Chair, James Evans, is “worried that they won’t, in fact, be able to comply with this – and this is what the panic is about right now.” Jenkins also said that,”as of right now, we are not totally sure of all the ramifications of [SB] 54, and it is in court on top of that. So, this Utah State Republican Party has simply asked that this bill be delayed so that everybody has a chance to get on the same page.”
Jenkins would conclude his opening arguments by noting that all his bill does is delay the start of SB 54, not back out of the initial Count My Vote compromised reached in SB 54 last year.
Senator Curt Bramble (Republican – Provo), who sponsored SB 54 last year took umbrage at Jenkins bill, noting how easy the process has been for Republicans up to this point.
“In 2014, what action did the [Republican] party have to take in order to get on the ballot?” Bramble asked of Jenkins, who responded that “they had to send a letter.”
Bramble notes that the state did indeed send a letter to the Republican Party noting that the final deadline to appear on the ballot last year was March 3 – and the Republican Party’s Executive Director, Julian Babbitt, wrote an email 7 minutes before the filings deadline of 5 PM, to state that Republicans intend to participate in a primary election. Bramble then noted that in a post Count My Vote world, the Party was still able to comply with rules (even with 7 minutes left before the filing deadline).
Jenkins felt that it wasn’t that simple. “In order for [The Utah GOP] to comply, they have to change bylaws of the party in order for that to happen,” Jenkins said, continuing that “The [Republican] Party has yet to decide whether it is going to be a qualified party or a registered party. They have 4,000 delegates that they need to take that to in order to make that decision. 54 has put this decision before them…54 has complicated this whole thing.”
Bramble reminded the body the source of the SB 54 last year. “I support the caucus system, that is why I brought forward Senate Bill 54, to preserve the caucus/convention system. But, as a Republican, I also believe in honoring and sustaining the law, and I believe in the rule of law…the [Republican] Party doesn’t control either this legislative body or the statues we pass, nor does the party control the interpretation [of laws]…54 is the law.”
Bramble concluded that both the Attorney General and the Lieutenant Governor have confirmed that the Utah GOP are able to participate in elections under current rules.
Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) was bothered by SB 54 last year, feeling that it reached too far. “Political parties are private entities,” Madsen told the body, “they are supposed to be self-governing, and they are supposed to decide through the process they select what nominees have their brand on the ballot…now Senate Bill 54 has passed and the law has changed the equation. Whereas the party chair can write a letter unilaterally, that doesn’t give the party a chance to convene its convention for all of the delegates who are supposed to be the governing body.”
Woods Cross Republican, and former Utah GOP Vice Chair, Senator Todd Weiler rhetorically asked Jenkins what Utah GOP bylaws need to be changed in order to comply with the provisions of SB 54, before Jenkins could reply, Weiler stated that there are no bylaws would in fact have to be changed.
Weiler went on to remind the body that Count My Vote was close to being successful and that a decision was made by the legislature to preserve the caucus system through SB 54.
“I love the Republican Party, I love our caucus system. I voted for Senate Bill 54 because the party, despite numerous efforts by its previous chairman begging and pleading, the party could not come to a consensus on how to make some changes,” Weiler said, continuing that “after we passed Senate Bill 54, Count My Vote threw away over 100,000 signatures, they threw them away, they relied on our good faith. They spent a million dollars, they threw away the signatures because they made a deal.”
Weiler also contended that the GOP’s statements are unprepared are largely unfounded, noting that on March 2, Evans stood along side Bramble and Count My Vote representatives when the SB 54 compromise was announced.
“At convention, [The Utah Republican Party] did nothing to address Count My Vote, even though they had 24 days notice,” Weiler noted, adding that “instead, at that state convention, the party chairman stood up and said that he had a strategy, and that he wasn’t to announce what that strategy was. I am afraid that standing up and say they can’t comply with two years notice is part of that strategy.”
Weiler would also conclude that “the legislature did what the [Republican] Party was unable or unwilling to do. We saved the best elements of the caucus system. To come back one year later and say ‘oops, we got you, we fooled you, you threw away those signatures, now we are going to pull the carpet out from under your legs.’ I think it lacks integrity.”
He added that Count My Vote would go back and raise another million dollars and collect the signatures all over again if the legislature passed out anything that ran counter to the 2014 compromise of last year – what would be different is that they could now add the fact that the legislature backed out of its deal.
Becoming upset with the continued attack, Jenkins reverted to a more basic argument, stating that “the Republican Party is the delegates. For [the legislature] to stand up and say ‘you did what the Republican Party couldn’t do’ I think is wrong, and I think that reaches right to the very core of this argument. The Republican Party wasn’t consulted – they had a simple presentation made to them. They were not brought into the negotiations, and they had nothing to say or do with it, and the Republican Party has asked you do a very simple thing so that we can put our house in order and give this lawsuit to percolate and have a decision made.”
Jenkins’ and the Utah Republican Party’s pleas fell largely on deaf ears, as the bill failed on a 9-19 vote.
Jenkins resolution that would out-and-out repeal SB 54 passed second reading on Monday on a vote of 17-12 and is currently circled on third reading.