In one of my favorite rock classics is “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who. It ends with the lyrics, “meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” I can’t help but think that refrain is the crux of the SB 54 conundrum of the Republican Party. We are replacing the Republican State Central Committee, delegates and voters as the boss with more retail campaigning, money and voters. In the end, the voters are still boss.
The Party insiders are incensed. They don’t like having to share their power. They have fought against losing that power at every turn. No compromise. Never. Like “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour. One comment on Facebook about my blog post on poor GOP negotiating strategy on SB 54 was spot on. The poster said, “I find it strange that people who have been on the state central committee don’t realize that they are the ones who are now the very establishment they claim to despise, and that they can lose touch with the average Republican. I hope they are willing to take an approach to this that won’t finish off the caucus system.”
Republicans are conservatives. They have a tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change. Therefore, the political changes as dictated by SB 54 are hard to accept. Yet perhaps the biggest surprise of the County My Vote initiative effort was the support given by ordinary Republicans. Polling suggested that many of these Republicans had previously been delegates to conventions. They had participated in caucus meetings. These Republicans had come away from the process disaffected and desiring change. This was a staggering indictment of the caucus/convention system and a genuine surprise to me and many others in the Republican Party. Picture “Wind of Change” by The Scorpions. While I’m not aware of any studies on the matter, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if this is one of the major factors in Utah’s drift from one of the highest voting states to one of the lowest voting states.
The State Central Committee (SCC) is the governing body of the Utah Republican Party. Party leadership including the Chair work for the SCC. Party changes begin in the SCC. Becky and I first got elected to the SCC by cutting out red paper in the shape of drops of blood and using the slogan, “it’s time for new blood” while campaigning at the County Convention. We were grassroots all the way. I served for 16 years on the SCC. Much of my life revolved around Party issues percolating under the public or media radar. I have many people I consider to be lifelong friends from my time on the SCC, including James Evans, the current Utah Republican Party Chair.
You should know that the SCC is made up of committed Republicans who are passionate about freedom and liberty. Think “20th Century Man” by The Kinks. They believe strongly in limited government, limited taxation and empowering individuals and families. Can you hear the words of “Taxman” by The Beatles? They are generally outstanding people, thoughtful and smart. Some are activists who are looking for attention. Some are wackos. But the majority have always been good, well-intentioned men and women who care deeply about good government. Some of our elected officials got their political start being members of the SCC. County Party leadership and others are all elected at the County level and they come together from all 29 counties to govern the Utah Republican Party.
When the Count My Vote proposal was brought forward by Party Chair at the time, Thomas Wright, it was a simple decision to say “yes.” Increase the threshold from 60% to 65% to avoid a primary. In hindsight, it was a no-brainer. The SCC voted to authorize the Party to negotiate and consider the issue. Meeting after meeting was taken up with discussions on the pros and cons.
Hindsight is 20/20. Anyone can see now the SCC should have voted favorably and the convention delegates at convention should have made the change. I have often wondered what more could have been done to have the SCC and delegates come to their senses. To this day I have no idea. Members were determined to hold on to power at all costs. Maybe we should have cranked the music at those meetings with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones.
Since those meetings three years ago, the Party has continually put their head in the sand and acted as if by so doing the old status quo will return. CMV spent about $1 million to get the signatures for the direct primary ballot and loud voices in the Party proclaimed they really aren’t doing so and they won’t get the signatures. In spite of polling that suggested that over 70% of Utahns were in favor of CMV, loud voices proclaimed that the initiative will never pass. The Legislature stepped in, led by Senator Curt Bramble and Representative Dan McCay jumping into the hornet’s nest, and the Republican Party loud voices condemned the very Legislators for trying to save the caucus system. Then, the Party filed a lawsuit against their own Republican elected officials and proclaims victory when they lose in a court of law. And most egregious, loud voices in the Party propose crazy new ways to keep power and actually think they are winning in the court of public opinion. It is like the fantasy land in Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore.”
The attempts to maintain Party power are almost comical. Yet the train has left the station without them and is almost to the next destination. That train is called SB 54. A dual track for elections that include the caucus/convention track and a signature gathering track that will result in many more primary elections. Listen to “I Fought The Law” by The Crickets. Some find it odd that political parties use terms like Central Committee. It seems so Soviet Union, so communistic. Listen to “Revolution” by The Beatles. Sometimes there is irony in the name. Depends on the issue. Like Utah’s election process.
Not long ago I read a book that talks about change in power structures called “The End Of Big” by Nicco Mele. In the sleeve of the book, it says, “Governments are being upended by individuals relying on social media. Major political parties are seeing their power eroded by grassroots forces through online fund-raising. Universities are scrambling to preserve their student populations in the face of less expensive, more accessible online courses. Print and broadcast news outlets are struggling to compete with citizen journalists and bloggers. Our traditional institutions are being disrupted in revolutionary ways, some for the better. But, the benefit of new technology come with unintended consequences.” Hmmm…sounds like “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash.
Yes. We live in a new day and age. I call it the innovation age. There are unintended consequences in this new reality and to this new election system. Some fear that more liberal candidates will now be elected, that Utah’s status of Best Managed State will be ruined and that Utah’s values of self-reliance and limited government will be upended. But truly nobody knows what the consequences will be. The Legislature didn’t start this change. They intervened when it appeared that the caucus/convention system was going to be replaced with direct primaries. Whatever the unintended consequences of SB 54, those same consequences would have been exacerbated by a direct primary system, one that is used in many states. And what the hand wringers aren’t considering are the possible favorable consequences of more citizen participation in the political process. If the Party would step up and focus on greater citizen participation and educate them on why they should participate as Republicans, maybe we can make a great State even better and its people more passionate about freedom and liberty. Makes me want to sing “Freewill” or “Red Barchetta” by Rush.
The last few days, some Party loud voices have criticized me for my blogs on this issue. They have the right to their opinion. I have been through many political battles with them and I respect them. But on this issue we simply disagree. The choice isn’t between the old caucus/convention system and a new direct primary system anymore. The choice is instead how to comply with SB 54 and make minor tweaks that improves the dual track. The choice is about how to persuade voters to vote Republican. The choice is about how to educate those voters that voting Republican will align with their principles and values. In the past, we had to persuade an ever decreasing percentage of the population who voted. Now we have to persuade hopefully an ever-increasing percentage of the population who vote.
To their credit, the last few days the Republican Party has become much more conciliatory. Kudos to James Evans for speaking out on SB 54 compliance and surveying Utah Republicans Utah on the matter. I’m encouraged by these actions. There are some very smart people in the Republican inner circle. Maybe common sense will prevail and maybe the Party that I love will figure this out. We cannot be afraid of change and of persuading new voters that the Republican view of good government produces the best outcomes.
Speaking of rock classics, the more I’m involved in Utah politics the more they more reminds me of GNR’s “Welcome To The Jungle.” Yet another reason to listen to classic rock and roll while involved in politics.