Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
People wait for Proposition 2 results at the Proposition 2 election night party at the Infinity Event Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

The holiday shopping season provides no relief from political intrigue. Amidst our virtual shopping trips to Amazon.com, and our physical visits to Tractor Supply (LaVarr) and the State Liquor Store (Frank), we cogitate on the latest political machinations.

Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Rob Bishop, along with a number of state legislators, have joined with the right wing of the Republican Party in a U.S. Supreme Court appeal that seeks to overturn SB54. This would allow the party to abolish the signature-gathering process as an option to the caucus/convention system for GOP candidates to secure placement on a primary election ballot. What is motivating this relentless opposition to SB54? Will the Supreme Court accept this case?

Pignanelli: "Being stubborn can be a good thing (or) a bad thing. It just depends on how you use it.” — Willie Aames

These tireless activists are akin to the horse carriage industry in the early 20th century fighting hard to protect their interests against those newfangled horseless vehicles. Technology and society surpassed that antiquarian transportation industry, and the delegate/convention system shares the same fate.

Voting district delegates were developed in a different era, when neighborhood meetings provided the best means to exchange information regarding political parties and other community activities. But now dual-income families, staggered working hours, accessibility of instantaneous information from the web and other advances dramatically altered how Utahns live and interact_._ A precinct caucus, by itself, no longer serves as a relevant and efficient tool of aggregating and reflecting the support of candidates or policies.

Objections to state regulation of political parties are secondary to the important objective of the population expressing their will through the effective compromise crafted by the Legislature. Therefore, the Supreme Court will not mandate that Utahns use the equivalent of buggy whips and hitching posts in their election process.

Webb: Controlling the nomination process gives the arch-conservative wing of the party immense power, so for them this is a fight to the death. Under the caucus/convention system, members of Congress and state legislators worry more about the views of delegates than the views of Utahns in general. Legislators have told me that having the option to gather signatures and bypass the delegates is highly liberating and allows them to better represent their constituents.

Legal experts tell me it is highly unlikely the Supreme Court will accept the appeal for consideration, let alone overturn SB54. Nomination processes in numerous states would be impacted, not just in Utah. If arch-conservative Republican activists really want the state to butt out of the party nomination process, they should pay the costs of their primary elections.

If these litigants are successful, GOP candidates would be forced into the caucus/delegate/convention system exclusively. What would be the political consequences in Utah?

Pignanelli: Should this occur, LaVarr and I would have an endless source of gossip from the machinations and maneuverings. Emboldened far-right and far-left (don't forget them) special-interest groups will control many levers of the political institutions. Rational non-extremist large donors will redirect resources, driving the parties further to the fringes and unreflective of mainstream Utah. Short-term chaos results (but the self-righteous speeches will be hilarious). A crippled, broke GOP eventually succumbs to the demands of the establishment and establishes an alternative to the delegate process.

Webb: The Republican Party would be ripped apart, because mainstream Republicans are simply not going to stay in a party where the far-right exclusively controls the party nomination process. Already, most large GOP donors have abandoned the party and are now contributing to the Reagan Roundtable, which supports sensible GOP candidates.

The Utah GOP is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan, who welcomed conservatives and moderates into a GOP “big tent” without litmus tests and ideological purges. If SB54 is overturned, the Utah GOP will shrivel into a fringe faction of angry activists who will spend their time arguing over arcane rules and ideological purity.

On Monday, a special session will be held to overhaul Proposition 2, the medical marijuana law passed by voters on Nov. 6. Will the compromise proposal prevail?

3 comments on this story

Pignanelli: The special session is another example of why Utah is fabulous. Supporters and opponents wisely comprehended a nasty election fight would have ramifications far beyond the ballot box. Practical legislators, especially Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, fostered the necessary discussions between combatants to avoid the fallout. Utahns will have access to medical marijuana without risking the dangers contained in the Initiative. Congratulations … and thanks to all.

Webb: The marijuana wave is sweeping across the country, and Utah can’t hold it back. While the compromise is bitterly opposed by extremists on both sides, it represents the best Utah can do to allow use of the medicinal components of cannabis by those who can benefit by it, while not allowing recreational use of the addictive and dangerous properties of marijuana. That’s better than being overwhelmed by weed.