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2 Sense: Compromise and Count My Vote

By Val Hale And Donna Milakovic - | Mar 6, 2014

Val: With one more week left in the legislative session, we can’t resist the opportunity to get in yet another political column. After all, one of the Chamber’s main responsibilities is to advocate for business-friendly public policy. So when Senator Curt Bramble decided to forgo a compromise between the Count My Vote camp and those favoring the caucus/convention system, it captured our attention and is the focus of today’s column.

If anyone in the state knows how to work a compromise, it is Sen. Bramble. He has been the man behind the curtain bringing people together on heated issues for many years. Three years ago, he risked his political career by leading a compromise on immigration reform. This session he is sponsoring SB 54, legislation designed to alter and protect the caucus/convention system.

As recently as a week ago, Bramble was under intense fire from the Count My Vote advocates and factions of the Republican and Democratic Parties. His bill had easily sailed through the Senate and was on to the House. Republicans and Democrats were ticked because Bramble’s bill forced them to make changes to the way they ran their caucuses and primary elections. Among other things, it required Republicans to have an open primary election and forced the parties to use absentee balloting at the caucuses. All along, Bramble maintained that his intent was to increase participation in the caucuses and elections.

The Count My Vote folks were angry at Bramble because it appeared to them as if he were running the bill to counteract their efforts to get their initiative on the ballot, even after they had spent $1 million and gathered 100,000 signatures. They accused him of trying to circumvent the will of the people.

Even Governor Gary Herbert weighed in, threatening a possible veto of SB 54 because he didn’t like the idea of it thwarting the will of the people who were following the initiative process.

Just when it appeared as if there might be a train wreck involving SB 54 at the end of the session, word began to leak out that Bramble and the House sponsor, Rep. Daniel McCay, were working on a compromise with Count My Vote. They were willing to throw a big bone to Count My Vote by allowing an alternative route to the primary ballot if a candidate could gather a significant number of signatures from registered voters. Count My Vote, it was reported, would agree to call off its signature gathering as soon as the Governor signed the bill into law.

It may still be derailed somewhere along the line, but the end result of amended SB 54 may be that the political parties will be able to continue holding their caucuses and conventions (something that would have been rendered pointless if Count My Vote had passed), and Count My Vote gets more participation in the process and an alternative route to the ballot.

Most people in the state will see this as a good compromise. The amended bill has the support of the Utah Valley Chamber’s Board of Directors, as well as the Salt Lake Chamber. However, there are some in the political parties and in the legislature — mainly those who are more extreme in their politics — who are still upset. Even if the bill passes, don’t expect them to go away quietly. They will pull out all the stops to keep outsiders off their ballot.

Once again Senator Bramble has waded into fast-running water in a controversial issue. And, once again, he is reaching out to those on both sides of the stream to help them find a place of common ground. Kudos to him and his fellow legislators who are willing to compromise. How refreshing.

Donna: The difficult thing about compromise is that for it to be effective, both sides have to give a little and that can be painful. Even if this compromise is all that it claims, in balancing the wishes and sacrifices of both sides, it will not be over. Lawsuits are sure to arise. The caucus/convention system is being called antiquated and outdated. It is hard for those not in the Republican or Democratic parties to have a say at all in politics in Utah.

On the other hand, the direct primaries are vilified as “buy my vote.” Many claim and will continue to claim that any means to the ballot that doesn’t include the convention system will be simply a game for the rich and/or famous to play because it takes money to get through a primary and popularity to get signatures.

For my part, as a transplant to Utah of only the last 14 years, I will repeat what I have said before. When the caucus system works properly and neighbors come out or send in a vote and elect several representatives to vet candidates, and then vote for the best according to their own judgement, it is the best process I have ever seen. It allows a high level of accountability to candidates and elected officials. It gives grassroots politics a clear avenue for change and an audience of informed representatives to hear their case.

However, when it goes bad, it goes very, very bad. The caucus system, when met with apathy and poor voter participation, becomes easy prey to special interest groups and a cheap way to ramrod change through the state.

I have always believed, and still believe, that there must be a safety catch for the system. If the only candidates are those backed by highly motivated special interests and have little interest in the will of the voters, then the people must have a way to call for an alternate candidate.

The compromise of allowing candidates with a significant but reasonable number of signatures to find their way to a primary ballot and possibly into office by the will of the people is a safety valve I think all Utahns will be grateful for someday. It is a check and balance to the vulnerability of the system without usurping its power.

I would still love to see delegate’s votes recorded and reported so that they have to be as accountable to their neighbors as our other elected officials, but I know that is not likely to happen. We have to trust our delegates in Utah but we don’t have to do it blindly or without recourse.

Val has praised Senator Bramble’s efforts and I will praise the wise and thoughtful leaders on both sides of this difficult issue for their willingness to come to the table and sacrifice a little of their own agenda to create a better check and balance on our election system in Utah. I hope we can appreciate the statesmanship of our current representatives in this instance.

Val Hale is president and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce. Donna Milakovic is executive Vice President of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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