David Rodeback's Blog

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Friday, May 17, 2013
"We Can't Be Late! We're Dele-Gates!"

(Ten points for any reader who correctly identifies the quotation in the title.) I'm off to the state Republican convention tomorrow. Here are some notes about issues that will arise there.

I'll spend most of tomorrow attending the Utah State Republican Organizing Convention in Sandy. I'm a state delegate from American Fork's 9th Precinct.

The off-year organizing conventions aren't as interesting to the public as the nominating conventions in election years, where we nominate candidates, but they're important. We'll select a new state party chair and some other officers, then turn our attention to a number of proposed resolutions and proposed amendments to party bylaws. Some of the more consequential proposed changes are to the caucus/convention system itself. There are also resolutions about immigration, Medicaid and ObamaCare, and Common Core.

If you're a registered Republican in my American Fork precinct, it's not to late to contact me to discuss any of these. I'd be interested to hear your views. (If you want to study the proposals, they're here.) Meanwhile, here are some of my thoughts. I'm making no attempt here to be comprehensive.

Party Chair

Current party chair Thomas Wright is not running for reelection. I don't know all the inner workings of the party, but what I've seen of him, I've liked a lot. Three men are vying to replace him: Aaron Gabrielson of Heber City, Marco Diaz of Sandy, and James Evans of Salt Lake City. We delegates are hearing a lot lately about how much money they've raised for the party in their counties, how committed they are to an inclusive party, how few Democrats have won in their counties, etc., etc.

I've had at least six robocalls asking me which one of these I support. The most intelligent poll also asked whether that support was strong or whether I was just leaning in a candidate's direction. That poll and a couple of others allowed me another option: undecided. The other polls didn't, which I thought was silly. I'd love to know which polls came from which candidates, because originating a smart or poorly-constructed poll would tell me something about a candidate for party chair.

That said, none of the polls was equipped to measure where I really am this week. I haven't yet picked a candidate, but one of them is in serious jeopardy. Aaron Gabrielson's fliers and e-mails highlight this claim: "All the skills and all the experience. None of the strings." But he may be tied up with FreedomWorks, and that's a string so big it's almost a rope. On that basis alone, I'd vote for someone else. (See Paul Rolly's columns in the Salt Lake Tribune here and here.)

FreedomWorks is a lavishly funded interest group that is so cynical that it might almost be at home in the Obama Adminstration's spin machine. Its commitment to truth is casual at best. In fact, as I recall their flood of lies about and distortions of Senator Orrin Hatch's Senate record in last year's campaign, the adjective "casual" seems too charitable by half. (For details, check out this blog post from last year.)


I've discussed immigration here at the blog in the past, and my general views haven't changed. (See my four-part series here.) The politicial and economic terrain has eroded a bit, though. For example, illegal immigration has decreased as the economy has struggled under the current regime and in the last two Bush years. But there are still a lot of conservatives calling anything short of mass deportation "amnesty," no matter what the word really means, and a lot of Democrats who view the illegals as undocumented voters.

Here are just three notes:

I'm still not sure how valid our current immigration laws are. The problem is desuetude. If you systematically and deliberately neglect to enforce a law, it ceases to have the full force of law, and it doesn't make much sense to call people who violate it criminals.

I favor the Utah Compact, and one of the Utah Legislature's many disappointments for me is that they cannot seem to man up and endorse it themselves.

I see the wisdom of Senator Mike Lee's preference that we address immigration piecemeal, rather than in one bloated, "comprehensive" reform that will become a grab-bag of horrors akin to the ObamaCare legislation.

Common Core

The data collection provisions of Common Core are a gross violation of privacy. We're seeing what the IRS can do when it decides to help one party defeat the other; Common Core could be much worse. In general, federal control of public education is even worse than state control. And I'm all for rigorous academic standards, but when those standards themselves are inadequate and ideologically driven, and they have become a vehicle for other serious abuses . . . Why would we drink poison and serve it to our children, when we already know it's poison?

The Caucus and Convention System

Opposition to Utah's method of nominating candidates through caucuses and conventions got a lot louder three years ago, when Senator Robert Bennett's career stalled in the state nominating convention. Some folks think a pure primary system would be fairer, whatever "fair" means. It's as if the establishment thought that Senator Bennett had a right to the nomination, and the party delegates denied him that right. (Curiously, two years later, Senator Orrin Hatch experienced much better results at the convention.)

I actually like the current system. I like how it starts at the neighborhood level, with neighbors running for election as delegates, to choose the party's candidates. I like how seriously the delegates take their responsibilities, studying the candidates and the issues more comprehensively and more intensely than the vast majority of voters in primary elections. I like how the delegates at convention filter out the least capable and more radical candidates on the first ballot or two in most cases, often leaving the two most credible candidates to face a primary -- if there are two. Frankly, I like how I can persuade my neighbors to elect me a delegate, which positions me to help determine which names appear on the ballot.

Some people think that too few voters participate in caucuses. Then again, they say the same thing about primary elections. Some say primaries would lead to more moderate and less radical candidates. I suspect they sometimes would, and sometimes wouldn't. Some say the system isn't democratic enough or representative enough -- but anyone who wants to participate can do so, provided they care enough to register with the party and attend the caucus.

In 2010 I supported Mike Lee for the Senator Bennett's seat, though not for the same reasons the Tea Party cited. I explained this to my precinct's caucus, and they voted to send me to the state convention to represent them. In 2012 I supported Senator Orrin Hatch. I explained this very clearly at my new precinct's caucus, where a majority felt the same. They sent me to the convention as a delegate.

Note that each neighborhood -- each precinct -- gets to decide its own preferences in a democratic way, in the process of choosing delegates. No one is disenfranchised, but you have to show up.

Let's look a little more at the Senate race in 2010. There were eight or nine candidates. Six of them were either lightweights or radicals or both. Despite state delegates' reputation for being further right than the party at large, all of these were eliminated on the first ballot. Three candidates remained: Senator Bennett, Mike Lee, and Tim Bridgewater. The other two were to the right of Bennett by most measures, but these were the three candidates nearest the mainstream. The next ballot eliminated Senator Bennett. The following ballot nearly eliminated Mike Lee, but Tim Bridgewater came in just below 60 percent of the vote, so there was a primary election a few months later, which Mike Lee won by a nose. He subsequently won the general election by a sizable margin.

If less than 60 percent of delegates support a candidate, there's a primary between the top two finishers at the convention. This tends to happen only when there are at least two credible candidates. The 60 percent threshold may change tomorrow at the convention. I'm not passionately committed to 60 percent, but I certainly wouldn't want it lower. If it were higher, perhaps the tendency to place the two best candidates before the voters in a primary would be enhanced.

Some of the people who want to replace the caucus/convention system are pretty smart. One of them is my friend Tiani Coleman, who chaired Salt Lake County's Republican Party for a while. You can read her objections here and here. I agree with some of what she says, but the fact remains that, so far, the current system has served my interests well. I've used it to help my preferred candidates win.

You may also enjoy this interesting report from Fox News from last year's Senate race. I like the last paragraph:

"We start with our neighbors, and our views come up from the neighborhood and are carried to the convention," said Doug Smith, 59, a Hatch supporter from Bountiful. "If you want to have your voice heard, this is the system for it."

There are even those who think that we should move to a pure primary and let voters who are not registered as Republicans vote in it. It doesn't make sense to me to allow people who don't care enough to join the party to choose the candidates on which the party will expend its funds and labor. Moreover, no one is disenfranchised by closed primaries unless party membership is also closed, which it most certainly is not.

It would almost seem out of character for me (at least lately) to blog again before July or August, but if anything blogworthy happens tomorrow, I'll be here.

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