Making the World “Safe for Democracy”
We have heard this phrase for decades. Usually to justify attacks on foreign soil. But, was the attack on the Utah Caucus System another way to “make the world safe for democracy”?
What is a democracy? It’s majority rule. That’s a good thing, right? Or, is there something better? Perhaps something called a republic?
This video does a pretty good job of describing the differences between a democracy and a republic.
Utah’s Caucus System is Outdated
Utah is one of the last states to utilize the caucus system. Other states just use a primary system to select who their political party’s nominees will be. Certainly a primary system would be preferable to an outdated caucus system, right? After all, in a primary everybody is able to vote on who the nominee should be. You know, majority rule…
Well, why stop there. If it is better that everybody have a vote on who is nominated to represent the party in government elections, then wouldn’t it be even better if we elected nobody and instead had everybody vote on every piece of legislation? And have everybody be able to draft their own legislation?
Oh, you think that would be a bad idea? Because everybody would have to give up the other parts of their lives to try and keep up with researching every piece of legislation before voting on it? Or, worse just do eeny-meeny-miny-moe to decide on how to vote, because they don’t have enough time to research so much proposed legislation?
Well, does everybody have enough time to vet every candidate who is running for office? Does everybody want to give up precious time with their family or take time off work to do all the research necessary to figure out which candidate is best for every office? Would all of the candidate have enough time to spend personal one on one time with every voter, like they do with a limited amount of delegates?
Utah Caucus System IS a Republic System
The way the Utah Caucus System works is: The state is divided up into US Congressional Districts, State Senate Districts, State House of Representative Districts, Counties, and Cities. Each county then divides up their county into smaller chunks, called Precincts. (Every person within a precinct will have the exact same ballot, so the precincts can’t cross district, county, or city boundaries.) The size of each precinct varies.
The Utah Caucus system uses these precincts as the roots of their caucus system. Every two years, across the entire state, every precinct (that has humans in it) holds a caucus at the exact same time. (Making it impossible for someone to cheat and attend multiple caucuses.) In these meetings the neighbors who show up will read/listen to the party platform, then they will listen to short speeches by neighbors who want to be delegates. They use the party platform as the litmus test as they decide which of their neighbors has the values and understandings that most closely align with party principle values (and their own personal values). The people in that precinct will then vote on which of their neighbors most closely match their own value system and the party platform. Those with the most votes will become the delegates who will represent the precinct.
Duties of the Delegates
Some people wrongly assume that the delegates should already have their minds made up on which candidates they want to vote for by the evening of the caucus. Or, they assume that the delegates should vote for whoever the rest of the precinct wants them to vote for. If that was the case, then they might as well just vote in a primary.
The duties of the delegate are not that simple. The delegate is charged with the duty of fully vetting each candidate for every race. They take the next few weeks to research the candidates, attend meet the candidate events, attend debates, talk to the candidates on the phone or in person, read through materials they receive from candidates, research past voting records, and every other thing they can think of that will give them the most insight into each candidate. They use the party platform as the litmus test to determine which candidates would represent their party values the best. THEN they attend a convention where they will vote (on behalf of their precinct) for the best candidates.
These candidates, who have been thoroughly vetted by the delegates, will then be either narrowed down to 2 candidates per race to go on a primary ballot or possibly narrowed down to 1 candidate to go on the general election ballot as the party’s nominee.
A Few Benefits:
Precinct members who are not delegates can continue on with their lives, without having to thoroughly research every candidate for themselves.
Candidates know who the delegates are, and can more easily reach the few hundred to 4,000 delegates (depending on which office they are running for), rather than several thousands of people.
Campaign costs are much less, so you can actually run for office even if you are not wealthy or well connected (especially to special interest groups).
Candidates and delegates do not have to rely on media to send or receive their information, because they can directly communicate with each other.
The eventual party nominee will be more thoroughly vetted than a candidate who only went though a primary system.
Special Interest Money and Favors
Since it costs a lot more for a candidate to run through a primary system, rather than a caucus system, candidates are more likely to be beholden to lobbyists, super PACS, unions, and other special interest groups for campaign contributions. Note: In DC there are over 35,000 registered lobbyists bombarding our 535 congressional delegation.
Even worse than campaign contributions are some of the undisclosed favors that candidates receive in exchange for their votes. Do you ever wonder how some of our elected public servants retire as millionaires? There are so many ways to get around the laws that govern political contributions.
Here are two quick examples, but many more go unnoticed and unpunished.
Media Shaping Opinions
The media has a lot to lose with a caucus system and a lot to gain with a primary system. Why? Because with a primary system, candidates are forced to use the media to reach voters. They either have to pay to run ads, or they have to build a good relationship with reporters and editorial boards if they want to get their name and message out to the public in a positive way. With a caucus system, they don’t rely much on the media for the early part of their campaign process.
Another reason media wins with a primary system is because then they have a larger role in shaping public opinion. Most of the media around has a very liberal editorial board, so their agenda is often to help the person (or cause) that is more liberal. Sometimes they do this in an obvious way, but often they do it in a way that isn’t so easy to see.
For example, they will start with editorials saying they are against something. As time goes on they will release articles that supposedly “show both sides”, but in such a way that many can’t tell that they are being led in a certain direction. Then as the situation comes to a head (like right before a certain vote), they will publish their editorial that is now in favor of it. They will remind you that at first they were against it, but over time they have received more information, so now they are for it. (This is to “help” you or “guilt” you into shifting your position as well. If you don’t then you obviously aren’t as educated on the subject as they are.)
Congress Approval Rating
How is it that the congressional approval rating after the 2008 TARP bailout was at 9%, yet the congressional reelection rate for the next 2 election cycles was 96%? Does that make any sense? There was only one state in the nation where that wasn’t the case. Utah.
In Utah the reelection rate was much lower. Rep Chris Cannon and Senator Bennett both voted for TARP and they both lost their reelection bids. Cannon lost to Chaffetz in 2008. Bennett lost to Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee who went on to a primary in 2010. Mike Lee won the primary. Rep Rob Bishop and Rep Jim Matheson both voted against TARP and were both reelected.
Why was Utah able to remove the incumbents who had voted for TARP, but the other states weren’t able to remove their representatives who had? Because of the vigorous vetting process of the Utah caucus system!
Trouble in the Utah Republican Party
After the defeat of the two incumbents who had voted for TARP, there was a group of people who were very angry. They no longer liked the caucus system that had served them so well for so many years, because too many of the little people had learned about the caucus system and started coming out in an effort to do something about the runaway government.
So, they worked extra hard to make sure the other incumbent who voted for TARP didn’t lose his reelection bid in 2012. In order to do this, they had to use the incumbent’s large war chest of campaign contributions in an attempt to stack the caucuses with people who would support the incumbent. Senator Hatch’s campaign spent about $5.65 million prior to the 2012 caucuses in order to stack them in his favor. (And they did a really good job!)
In spite of spending over $5 million to stack the caucuses, Senator Hatch was forced into his first primary since he was elected in 1976. Whether you like Hatch, or not, the fact that he could not outright buy the nomination at convention shows the power of the Utah caucus/convention system.
The Last Republic
Will Utah lose their caucus system? The group (now calling themselves “Count My Vote” or CMV) who were angry at losing their incumbents were not happy that it was so difficult and expensive to get a 6 term senator elected to his 7th term. (That’s 42 years in office.) So, they put their minds together and came up with a plan.
First, they threatened the Utah GOP State Central Committee (SCC) that they needed to increase the threshold at convention so there were MORE primaries. (And so it would be harder to defeat an incumbent. Only incumbents would likely ever reach the higher threshold to avoid a primary.) They threatened the SCC that if they didn’t raise the threshold, then they (CMV) would start a ballot initiative for a dual path to the primary ballot. (Similar to Connecticut.)
Then, rather than wait to see if the SCC would raise the threshold, they sent a threatening email to the SCC members the night before the big vote. The email stated that the threshold increase was not their only demand and they stated their additional demands. (Like a blackmailer who keeps demanding more and more.) Because of these additional demands, even members who were planning on voting for the threshold increase ended up voting against it, so it failed. The SCC voted on it a couple more times and even the state delegates voted on it, but it failed.
The CMV people had been doing a lot of work. They had found that people wouldn’t support a ballot initiative with a dual path to the ballot, because the average person couldn’t understand it. But, they found that people would be more supportive of a direct primary that was sold to them as “making their vote count”. Everybody wants their vote to count, right? It was a no-brainer.
Lies, Lies, and More Lies
The direct primary wasn’t what CMV really wanted, but they used the people who would support the direct primary as pawns in their real scheme. They were gathering signatures, but even their great selling feature of making your vote count wasn’t enough. So they started lying to people to get them to sign the ballot initiative.
My friend recorded her conversation with a paid signature gatherer for CMV. They told her the petition was to stop schools from throwing out kids school lunches. Listen to her conversation. It’s crazy!
Then I came across a CMV signature gatherer in a grocery store parking lot. I recorded our conversation as she told me lie after lie. Some of them were so funny, I had a difficult time not laughing out loud. Here is our conversation. I only edited out a couple names that I threw out to see if she really did grow up where she said she did. That was probably the only thing she told the truth about.
Some groups were disputing the legitimacy of the signatures and requested that the Lt Governor’s office investigate the fraud. Read more about that here.
Compromise? I don’t think so!
State Senator Curt Bramble had drafted some legislation, SB54, which he ran during the 2014 state legislature. It included the entire CMV petition language and also the option to bypass the direct primary by using a dual path to the ballot. (Exactly what CMV had told the SCC they wanted in 2013.) They called it a “compromise”.
As SB54 started coming to head, the CMV group pretended they were against it. (You know, don’t throw me in the brier patch!) The SCC did not support the legislation and asked Bramble & the state legislature not to run it. In a closed meeting Bramble told the SCC that his bill would make it easier for the party to sue. He said that he made it non severable, so when they filed a lawsuit against the state for passing unconstitutional legislation, the whole thing would be tossed out if they found even one part that was unconstitutional. Two days later the bill was amended and it was now severable.
Bramble sold the bill to other legislators as “saving the caucus system”, but the SCC knew that in reality it was gutting our caucus system. It created the dual path to the primary ballot with signatures, which renders the caucus system to be irrelevant. We begged legislators not to pass it, but they didn’t listen.
The CMV group pretended to be against it, but in reality it gave them everything they wanted and more. It also gave them the direct primary that Bramble threw in as a bonus. Even Rich McKeown of CMV admits that SB54 was “exactly” what they “aspired from the beginning”. Their ballot initiative couldn’t be the dual path, because they “could not explain it adequately”. You can listen to his comments in this next short clip.
I submit that SB54 was not a compromise. It was a setup from the beginning. The signatures gathered by telling lies were just used as leverage to scare other legislators to vote for the bad bill in order to “save” the caucus system. Some of these legislators have received nice campaign contributions from CMV for their help in passing the SB54 Incumbent Protection Act.
Fast Forward to 2016
The state Republican Party sued the state of Utah over their unconstitutional law. So far the judge has ruled that the open primary provision was unconstitutional. Any day now we expect a ruling about signatures. If I had to guess, I would guess that he will rule that the signature requirements for the state house and state senate are unconstitutional, but will leave the other signature requirements in tact. There are a couple other portions of the piecemeal lawsuit that are still pending.
Only time will tell if Utah will be allowed to keep their Republic, or if CMV has now made Utah “safe for democracy”.
(banner image copyright DonkeyHotey)