The caucus devil we know

Over the past two years I’ve taken part in a few private meetings regarding how Utah’s caucus and convention system could be changed to avoid having the “angry few” disproportionately influence the electoral process. Frankly, I was annoyed that a few extremists among Republican delegates would continue to spread misinformation and angst about Utah’s state-based immigration law, HB 116. I’m all for an honest dialogue but a few Republican delegates at the time were off the chain.

So I listened carefully to some folks describe how the trademark Utah caucus and convention system could be changed to buffer against extremism. After a few of those meetings, I begged out and I’ve watched curiously since then how this group has advanced its cause.

In a column for the Deseret News last Sunday, my friend, LaVarr Webb, wrote that some of these “passionate” delegates “have even stated in public meetings that they don’t want increased participation in the political process. They believe they are better informed, have the right answers, and they don’t want anyone but themselves selecting candidates or influencing public policy.”

Yes, I’m sure some delegates have stated that they don’t want increased participation in the political process. But, to be fair, most of those voices are more concerned about how blissfully ignorant most Utahns are about the world around them than those voices are about consuming political power. So, yes, these delegates do believe they are better informed and for good reason – most of them are! Not all of them have the right answers, for sure. But it’s a bit disingenuous of my friend to chastise any serious citizen for wanting her candidate to be elected or her policy to become law – for heaven’s sake, that’s exactly what everyone wants! Even my friend LaVarr Webb.

A few caucus and convention reforms were proposed at the recent Republican state convention and all of them were rejected – and I have to add that their rejection was due more to their blatant representation, in the likeness of Mr. Webb’s characterization of certain delegates, than it was due to any substantive disagreement. The fact is that Republican delegates are mostly reasonable people who, if given a chance to sustain reasonableness without being incited by opponents to unreasonableness, would choose serious and substantive debate. My guess is that those proposed reforms weren’t meant to pass at the convention but were meant only to justify reformers to push for the Count My Vote initiative.

So let me return and explain why I excused myself from discussions to pursue caucus and convention reforms. First and foremost, as a conservative, I prefer the devil I know to the devil I don’t know. Utah’s caucus and convention system has served this state well for generations. Yes, it has its moments. But the sign of a healthy system is that it corrects itself and Utah’s system does that consistently.

Second, my politics are not the politics of the reformers. I believe in limited government and most of these reformers don’t. Most of these reformers think “moderation” means more government spending. I don’t. I believe in moderation in style and substance, not in the principles of limited government.

If reformers want their candidates elected to office, they should make a case that appeals to the most responsible citizens who take time to engage in a democratic process that has served this state since its founding.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

The above post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

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