Why anti-Count My Vote Utah legislators are silencing the voice of the people

Today, I turned around to ask my wife a question when I saw something I didn’t expect: a keyboard in a crib where my six-month-old child sat happy.

Initially, I felt alarmed. With the keyboard’s hard texture and winding cord, what could happen to my child? I thought. Was it responsible to allow such a new item? I quickly realized that in being firmly situated against the side of the crib and square with the crib’s length, the keyboard fit well and was significant to the well-being of my baby.

When it comes to responsible caucus reform, could Utah legislators really not understand that Count My Vote is an excellent fit for the Beehive State and those they represent? Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) authored SB54. It’s a bill that would keep that state’s unrepresentative caucus-convention system and shutter a citizen initiative that would give all Utahns a voice in the nominating process. The Senate approved it overwhelmingly, and the House supports it, too.

Recently, someone much more important than me – with a much firmer understanding of political processes – asked similar questions.

“I read about the Utah Legislature trying to pass a bill that would nullify, in advance, the Count My Vote proposal. I’m quite surprised legislators would consider doing that on a voter initiative,” Mitt Romney wrote. “If voters use a constitutional process to formally demand a chance to vote on something, the legislature shouldn’t interfere. I’m especially surprised legislators would interfere with a ballot measure defining how they get elected.

“It smacks of self-interest and feels very wrong.”

Why would anyone do this (behind closed doors)? It’s an election year. Unfortunately, these politicians are absorbed in keeping their power beyond November. Left to face power-hungry delegates (I know, I was one) not representative of their precincts, a legislator in any district looking for re-election this year had better support SB54. And delegates who may be incorrect in thinking they are more educated than non-caucus attenders would not be happy in 2016, either. Voting against SB54 is political suicide. That’s why a pragmatic legislator like Lyle Hillyard is supporting it. GOP delegates have been putting him in office in every election since 1980. He owes them!

Cache Valley voters can’t be too off of the 2:1 favorability ratio among Utahns for Count My Vote. Thousands of Cache Valley citizens have made their voice heard through the initiative’s petitions.  But they didn’t elect him; delegates did. They would feel betrayed if Hillyard opposed SB54.

In fact, only two senators voted against SB54. One is Sen. Pat Jones, who is retiring.

Bramble himself represents perhaps the most conservative district in Utah, with the cities of Provo and Orem. He’s trying to score points with his constituents. He’s also excellent at wielding his power to kill citizen initiatives with overwhelming support.

In 1994, a citizens’ initiative would have set term limits for elected public officials. The petition had overwhelming public support. But before it could reach the ballot, Bramble led in setting up a “compromise” that offered less-strict limits on fewer officials. Law.

Ten years later, before any of the limits had been applied and after anger over the issue had died down, Bramble sponsored a bill repealing every single one of the changes the people had requested. Law.

Bramble may lead a chorus in saying that Count My Vote is simply the result of hurt feelings, after Mike Lee toppled Bob Bennett in the 2010 GOP Convention. But only one faction of one party opposes Count My Vote, and concerns have been rampant since 2004, when Olene Walker, who had an 80 percent approval rating, was knocked out. “We have been talking to anyone and everyone about this since 2009,” Count My Vote Director Rich McKeown also said.

Two of the three largest newspapers in the state have editorialized against SB54. The Salt Lake Tribune: “It is to be expected that people who have risen to positions of power will be fiercely loyal to the system that got them there.” The third is the conservative Deseret News, which did not even favor SB54.

Most importantly, citizens know the current system is a problem. There’s the 100,000 signatures they have offered on Count My Vote petitions. A Twitter account called “Crush My Vote” was created. It emphasizes how voiceless they feel in their representativeness, without a chance in November to say what they’d like.

Ironically, these individuals, most of whose theology says that the U.S. Constitution is inspired of God, are suggesting that there is a fundamental flow to the Utah constitution.

The Legislature must realize that, like my baby’s keyboard, Count My Vote is unexpectedly what Utah needs. It, too, has the needed keys – despite the statements of politicians looking out for number one.

Rhett Wilkinson
Rhett is a former project manager with Utah Policy Daily.
Rhett Wilkinson
Rhett Wilkinson
Rhett Wilkinson

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