Don’t Blame The Utah Caucus

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What’s all the fuss about over Utah’s Caucus-Convention system again?  From time to time, especially when candidates and incumbents are very sore losers, they and their supporters collaborate to get rid of Utah’s election system that spit them out.

It’s the system in which Parties nominate their candidates in a convention, and hold Primary run-offs between the top two if no one gets 60% of the vote.

Utah has used this system since statehood in 1896, as did every other state at the time.  That’s because it was considered the system that best represented a constitutional republican form of government.

Herbert B Maw
Utah Governor Herbert B. Maw

At only one time in Utah’s history did the state depart.  In 1937, a powerful State Senate President, Democrat Herbert Maw, convinced enough of his colleagues to switch to an open primary.  He had self-serving motives.  He had had two losses in s US Senate race and also for governor because the majority of the convention delegates disagreed with his legislative voting record.  But he had name ID and money.  An open Primary was the ticket to the governorship, and he did win.  But it only lasted for a decade.  After disillusionment, Utah restored the constitutional republican form of election, its beloved caucus-convention.

Today only seven states still have a caucus, but Utah is the only state that actually nominates the candidates in the convention that are placed on the ballot.  Other state conventions are merely endorsing conventions, and the party has no control over which candidate/s runs against its endorsed candidate and whether the others even represent the Party platform.

Matt Kibbe FreedomWorksPreserving the caucus is typically a hot fight, and this time around is no different.  I must believe those who want to preserve it and improve it are doing a good job because this hit piece was distributed the day before the State Central Committee will vote on proposals.  We think it’s rather humorous because the good ol’ boys of the establishment wing are targeting FreedomWorks, a conservative grassroots action group.  That should be a dead giveaway. I need to ask Republicans everywhere, “What does FreedomWorks believe that Republicans don’t?  Here’s their platform. It is very close to the GOP platform fiscally.

FreedomWorks(OK, so I don’t care for the powerful lobbyist tactics of Dick Armey who raised money for FW in the beginning nor his penchant for embracing amnesty and his embarrassment over the social side of the GOP platform. And I’ve never understood the logic of Republicans who say, “We’re for the free market and competition,” and then they support a government-funded private school system – called charter schools – that undercuts the private schools that don’t want to take government money, so they can’t compete, and they call it “choice.”  But FW is definitely fiscally conservative on most everything else.)

The humor of it all is that this  hit-piece was sent out from an anonymous email titled “” – clearly an email from the “trash Utah’s caucus” crowd.  (What is it with Utah and anonymous political emails anyway?!)  As  you can see, it’s targeting the very people that are working overtime to preserve, strengthen and defend Utah’s caucus. Only one of them is with FreedomWorks.  That should be a clue.

Utah Anti Caucus Hit Piece
Utah Anti Caucus Hit Piece

All I can say to them is, “Be afraid. Be VERY afraid.”

Back to business. Let’s examine some facts behind the push to trash the caucus. The number one complaint is: Low participation and low voter turn out.

Don’t Blame the Caucus!

Some Utahns erroneously believe that the caucus-convention is an exclusive insider club that does not allow the people to participate in the nomination and election process.  Adam Brown, an associate professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University, discussed his research in a January 2012 “Utah Data Points” study attempting to identify the reason for Utah’s decline in voter turn out.  Along with Utah’s younger population, its less competitive races, and  it also postulates that the caucus-convention is the most likely culprit.  He specifically targets the change in the threshold, from 70% to 60% in 1999, for securing the nomination as the likely cause of lower participation.

I will postulate that the caucus-convention itself is not responsible for low turnout.  The entire nation has been plagued with low voter turnout regardless the election system.  The caucus system is the most inclusive system for participation.  It’s the least elitist.  In what other system can you go out to meet a candidate and sit down with them in one-on-one and ask them questions and then get their cell phone number?

And it doesn’t elect extremists candidates. (It elected moderates Gary Herbert and Orrin Hatch.)  That’s only a perception fueled by liberal media.

After considerable research and analysis, the most likely reason for low turn out is two-fold, but the caucus has nothing to do with it:

1. Most Utahns are Republican – and Mormon.  Yes, that means less competitive elections.  Blame the Democratic Party for nearly shouting God off its platform three times in 2012, for supporting abortion on demand, socialized medicine, for slamming religious liberties in ObamaCare, and for opposing marriage between a man and a woman. But don’t blame the caucus. 

What were the Democrats thinking in Utah anyway?

When a state becomes predominantly one party or the other, it’s because that state is predominantly of that political mindset. Utah has a lot of Mormons. Mormons vote Republican. Oklahoma has a lot of evangelical Christians and Baptists. They vote Republican. New York has a lot of everything-but evangelical and Baptist and Mormon. They vote Democratic.

When the outcome of an election is a “given,” why go vote? Truly. That’s how many people think. But don’t blame the caucus.

But never fear, Governor Herbert is going to fix that.  He believes in competition, so he’s busy lobbying California tech businesses in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles to relocate to Utah.  The strategy seems to be to import more of California’s Democratic nuts and fruits. I can say that.  I’m native Californian.  Utah County no doubt got a few more with Adobe’s relocation.  (Could he at least find a few conservative-owned businesses?)

The Osmonds and OprahOther cultural factors come into play.  Utah families are larger than the norm.  Parents are dedicated to raising those children, attending their activities and again, their unusually strong commitment to a lay-church, the Mormon Church.  Although patriotism and getting out to vote is highly valued and  encouraged, time is a precious commodity with Mormon families.  But don’t blame the caucus.

images-3(Note: In the 2012 caucus, the numbers more than doubled because the LDS Church put out four times the notices in church meetings than normal.  An LDS Church endorsement clearly impacts caucus attendance.)

In addition, if there is an issue on a ballot or a hotly competitive race or a popular name at the top of the ticket (Romney comes to mind.  Most the state was somehow related to him), larger numbers will show up.    If not, the turnout will be low.  But don’t blame the caucus. 

2. Major Media Has Trashed the Caucus.  Now this is not one you will hear.  According to pollster Dan Jones, most Utahns have a low opinion of the caucus system. That message has been driven for several years now, interestingly mirroring the same years that fewer people came to the caucus.  The nexus of the messaging swirls around some influential players:

Lobbyist-publisher LaVarr Webb (fronting the celebrity figure former Governor Mike Leavitt – now lobbyist – whose conservative image Webb molded),  collaborating with D.C. lobbyis/ Hinckley Institute of Politics Director, Kirk Jowers, and their media ally, KSL Radio Talk Show host Doug Wright.

Doug Wright, KSL
Doug Wright, KSL Talk Show Host

KSL’s Talk Show Host Doug Wright

Let’s start with Doug Wright.  He consumes three hours of every week day locally on an LDS-owned radio station.  His disdain, not only for the caucus, but also for conservative (i.e. in his glossary “extremist”) politics in general, is widely known.

Background:  Doug replaced Danny Kramer in 1985 and changed the discussion by slowly redefined “conservative” and “Republican” to suit his own liberal-leaning opinions.

Since then Wright, who Reagan conservatives affectionately call “Doug Wrong,”  has collaborated with the far Left political satirist Paul Rolly (Salt Lake Tribune) to brand Phyllis Schlafly’s Utah Eagle Forum Chapter (a trusted friend and advisor to Ronald Reagan), and its Utah president Gayle Ruzicka as extremists; in 2004 Wright opposed the campaign for Amendment 3 to protect marriage between a man and a woman;  and in 2012 he successfully torpedoed the sex ed abstinence bill.  Other hot button issues have met similar fates along his path because he twists the truth about them, and he sways innocent listeners.

That’s because Doug Wright is not a Reagan conservative.

With Amendment 3, in 2004 conservative Republicans who supported the national and state platforms defending marriage had to work extra hard to counter Wright’s daily destructive drill, in which he strategically used the national gay rights talking points “It goes too far,” and “It will cost the state millions to defend it constitutionally” to try to kill the amendment.  Every state voting on that issue was using that same message.  But how would Utahns have known that?

Also assisting him was Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who showed up to support a gay fundraising event, and the Watts family that bought TV ads and placed their large (Mormon) family on the air with their  message advocating for gay rights for their two gay children.

We countered with the Osmond Family. Who could top that one?

Although it made a difference, too much of Utah bought Wright’s daily message.  As a result, by Election Day, many Utahns had been misinformed.  Utah, undoubtedly one of the most conservative states on the marriage issue because of the LDS Church’s Proclamation on the Family, ended up with the lowest percentage of favorable votes of any state that had been running a marriage amendment on its ballot.

From first-hand experience, I know how Doug Wright controls his message:  When I moved to Utah in the early 1990’s, I was heavily into education research and advocacy and a national speaker against the education agenda called “Outcome-Based Education” (the predecessor of the Common Core movement today).   Utah had been the pilot state, but the Utah legislature denied knowing anything about what the Utah State Office of Education was doing.  I produced the 1984 grant application and our state superintendent’s signature to expose it.  I requested to be on Doug’s show, and he put me on.  I could sense his confidence in being able to  destroy this conservative mom, but he ended up sounding rather uninformed, frankly.

He has never allowed me to be on his show since, with one exception.  When I ran for U.S. Senate, my communications director made several requests without success.  When I began to poll first place among the challengers to incumbent Bob Bennett, he had no choice but to include me.  I was one of the top four candidates on his show for a “debate” in which he asked the questions and we answered.  I did a respectable job and was friendly with him.

Since then, I have made several requests to be on his show, with no response. I called in once, and actually agreed with him on a point.  Meanwhile, I get calls routinely from people who will say, “Cherilyn, Doug’s smearing you again today.”  But when I request a response, there’s no reply.

The truth is, he’s not as informed on the issues, and he’s definitely not a Reagan Republican.  He’s more Democratic, but he pretends he’s Republican, and that’s how he controls the message in Utah. He has effectively defined what most Reagan conservative believe as “extremist.” He says the caucus is out-dated and needs to go, and his listeners listen.

LaVarr Webb
Lobbyist LaVarr Webb, Exoro Group; Publisher Utah Policy Daily, Utah Pulse

LaVarr Webb

I like LaVarr Webb.  We’ve met and talked on a couple of occasions for extended conversations.  He went from journalist, to communications and consulting for candidates, and has built a successful lobbying/media firm, combining his skills at shaping the message and molding the candidate.  He has spent considerable energy working with more establishment and moderate  candidates in Utah, shaping their “conservative” messages.  I would venture to say he is the Karl Rove of Utah, but most less boisterous and blustery.

For example, in the 1992 gubernatorial race, Webb worked for Mike Leavitt, who placed second behind Richard Eyre in the convention, the candidate more Reagan conservatives favored.  But because of big money and high name ID, Mike Leavitt won the Primary run-off.  He was the moderate.

[Please note: This is a consistent pattern in a caucus-convention system that the moderates complain brings out and elects the extremists.  The caucus has elected moderate governors and Senators who ran consistently as conservatives.  Check their records.]

After moderate Senator Bob Bennett, lost his re-election on the convention floor in 2010, the anger and rage was deep.  There was talk of Bennett running as an Independent.   A group of Bennett supporters collaborated with Webb as their message-molder.  He redefined the true Reagan conservatives in the Republican Party as “extremists” and his group, the moderate to liberal establishment, the Old Guard, the insiders and party brokers,  became known as the “mainstream conservatives.”

I confess it drove me nuts.  For my therapy, I wrote a 25-page, well-researched response to his brilliant re-branding, drawing analogies to similar slurs against Ronald Reagan when he ran against moderates Gerry Ford in 1976 and George Bush in 1980.  I recounted how Karl Rove entered into the scene as the King Maker to position his moderate candidate Bush for a 1988 run as, you guessed it, a conservative.

Some things never change.

[By the way, have you noticed there are no liberals in the Republican Party?  That’s because they are the “moderates.”  They more often agree with the Left, the liberals, than not.  Remember that.]

In Utah, because the Republican Party has such a dominant presence, nearly everyone runs as a “conservative.”  Many counterfeits have run as “mainstream conservatives” that Utah and DC public relations experts have carefully branded, with the help of Doug Wright radio show.

Although some counterfeits slip through the cracks, it’s far easier to catch the “fake” from the “authentic” in Utah’s caucus-convention system of actively engaged delegates than in a vast primary system of disinterested voters who just show up to vote on election day.  And the consultants surely know this fact because they are the opinion-shapers.

LaVarr Webb and I do agree on some issues for how to improve the system and we’ve had reasoned conversations.  But it is true that Webb and Wright have been shaping the opinions of the masses around Utah along with another opinion shaper, pollster Dan Jones. 

Kirk Jowers

Kirk Jowers
Kirk Jowers, Director Hinckley Institute

In 2010, Kirk Jowers, DC attorney lobbyist who heads up the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute for Politics, began lecturing about how the caucus-convention needed to go.   At that time, Party Chair Dave Hansen was a stalwart in defending the system.  He spoke to the Professional Republican Womens Club and I blogged about it and wrote a guest editorial the the Salt Lake Tribune published.

That brings us back to the BYU Data Points professor, Adam Brown. His data received a lot of air time, and convinced many people that the caucus convention is the cause of the low voter turn out problem.  Combine that with the ruffled feathers of the huge senate incumbent loss in 2010, and we had a perfect storm.

The $4 Million Dollar Threat

So the “mainstream conservatives,” which include other disgruntled establishment moderates such as former Governor Olene Walker, have collaborated to craft a system that meets their goals:  more party establishment, insider and D.C. lobbyist control.  They are now threatening to eliminate Utah’s constitutional representative republican election system though a ballot initiative, bypassing our elected legislature, to change the law and manipulate their agenda.

But their campaign entirely obfuscates the truth. It’s called “Count My Vote.”

Actually, it’s more appropriately called “Count DC’s Vote.”

It’s called “Count the Rich and Famous Vote.”

It’s called “Count the Lobbyist’s Vote.”

But one thing it is not: It’s not “Count My Vote.”

With their proposed system, your vote will be run rough-shod by the big party boys. LaVarr Webb is working with the man he helped elect, Mike Leavitt, spokesman for the trash-the-caucus proposal.  Each represents the Rove Wing of Republican Politics.* They want Utah to become the next Connecticut, inflicting that state’s bizarre and fraud-ridden dual primary election system on Utah.

Why? Because they’re still licking their wounds over the loss of their incumbent, Senator Bob Bennett (who was actually ranked the 9th most liberal Republican in the U.S. Senate).  They’re foisting a radical reform on Utah’s Republican Party that, if it had been in place in 2010, Senator Bennett would have been able to put himself on the ballot.  Because of his rich and famous status, he would most likely have had the advantage and been re-elected to a fourth term.  Mike Lee would not be our Senator.

If their proposed Connecticut Dual Primary System had been in place in 2008, Jason Chaffetz would not be our Congressman today.  If you’re conservative, that matters.

But no matter what political persuasion, stripe or color you are, turn-over is a good thing. It helps keep the corruption down.

Many government leaders have said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Supporting a caucus-convention election system requires nothing less. It’s the very system that Protects My Vote (and your vote – the people’s vote). It’s a good way to reduce corruption – in both parties. It makes it easier to unseat career politicians – in both parties. It’s the only system that would allow the regular guys to run for office, and win – in both parties without having to be a millionaire. It’s also the most cost-effective system to allow the People to review and expose the imposters who claim to be Republican (or Democrat if you’re in a Democratic state) but are merely buying the media message – in both parties.

I’d rather have the sometimes-bizarre line up of potential candidates who can get on a convention ballot, no matter who they are, what they believe, or how little or how much money they have.

With the caucus system, voters have a better shot at eliminating the bad apples in a convention rather than putting them on a ballot, wasting time and money and potentially embarrassing the members of the party that no longer have the right to protect their own principles and who represents them. 

I’d rather put them through a rigorous vetting process of a caucus-convention, scrutinized by dedicated delegates who have committed to spend the time to become more knowledgeable than to risk it on the low-information voter who doesn’t have time and just shows up to vote.

Cherilyn Eagar Utah Republican Convention 2012You would think that I would have an entirely different opinion of the caucus-convention after the 2nd Congressional District convention debacle in 2012 in which a goofball candidate that had barely campaigned, had no staff and that had only spent around $1,500, stood up to deliver an outrageous speech on the convention floor aimed at falsely discrediting four candidates, of which I was one.

Milt Hanks Eureka Utah Mayor
Eureka Utah Mayor Milt Hanks

The good news is that he was eliminated early in that process and didn’t embarrass the Party further in a big Primary election.

The Most Constitutionally Correct Election System

It all gets down to one thing:  Are we a Republic or are we a Democracy?  In spite of all its quirks, I still believe in the virtues of this caucus system because the alternatives are worse and only move the election process closer to a democracy and further from its original republican intent. At last review, in Article 4, Section 4 the U.S. Constitution still guarantees every state a Republican form of government.

“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government….”

Thomas Jefferson

In The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, No. 1685, p. 193, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The Constitution was meant to be republican, and we believe it to be republican according to every candid interpretation.”

That’s why we’re called the Republican Party.

It makes sense that the same people who regard the caucus as outdated and obsolete are also the same people that think the U.S. Constitution is out-dated and meant for an agrarian society.

I’d rather not risk giving power only to candidates who can afford to buy an election with 30-second TV commercial sound bites by moving to a democratic system of elections – and who wouldn’t know the correct answer to which form of government we have.  Even before the invention of the TV, delegates to another convention – the constitutional convention of 1787 had the common sense and foresight to know the dangerous result of a democratic popular election. Here are a few of their notes:

“The people are uninformed, and would be misled by a few designing men.” — Delegate Gerry, July 19, 1787

“A popular election in this case is radically vicious. The ignorance of the people would put it in the power of some one set of men dispersed through the Union, and acting in concert, to delude them into any appointment.” — Delegate Gerry, July 25, 1787

“The extent of the country renders it impossible, that the people can have the requisite capacity to judge of the respective pretensions of the candidates.” — Delegate Mason, July 17, 1787

Media-driven campaigns in Primary election systems are windfalls for campaign consultants such as Karl Rove nationally and LaVarr Webb’s Exoro locally in Utah .  Consultants make their money on massive media buys, typically bought with either the candidates’ own personal wealth or with that of big DC lobbyists. Is there any question why the Rove Wing of the Republican Party and some of the highest-paid DC lobbyists are trying to impose their will on Utah?

And now for the “Beethoven Ending” …

A Wish for Cleaning Up Politics
Other reforms would help, but one is especially high on my list.   Admittedly on a long-term wish that requires many more constitutional conservatives to be elected to the U.S. Congress and Senate:  Americans must require their state legislatures to once again elect their Senators so that they will once again represent their respective states, and not Washington DC’s lobbyist culture.

LaVarr Webb, Doug Wright, Kirk Jowers all say that will never happen.  Pragmatists.  Where would we be without them?  Where would the light bulb be?  Or the Internet?  The man on the moon?

Of course, they’re right.  As long as we keep the lobbyists in power, that will never happen.

Utah needs to hang on to what it’s got.  So don’t blame the caucus. Blame the…(you fill in the blanks)

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