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Count My Vote could hurt rural Utah

Contributing writer

I find it most interesting that the Sun Advocate should broach the subject of the Count My Vote Initiative as per Richard Shaw's by lined article in the Thursday, Oct. 3 edition.

I am the Carbon County Republican Party State Central Committeeman. The Republican Party Central Committee meets quarterly. For the past several years, I have only missed one meeting, being out of state on vacation.

First, background/primer on the way it works. A long time ago, more years than I have fingers, I made a commitment to myself to become more politically involved, partly because of my father, Bill Darter's influence. I heard about this thing called a caucus. I showed up at the Mount Harmon Jr. High cafeteria and sat down at a table labeled Spring Glen. I found myself the only person present. Not knowing any better, I elected myself precinct chair, county delegate, and state delegate. A coworker, from the mine I was employed at, told me to be sure and "elect" myself to be a state delegate - "that is where the fun is at". Woody Carter, the then Carbon County Chairman then made a short speech about how there were " a lot of horses... good horses, good people in these races and it was up to us to get to know them and vote for the best candidate". The next several weeks were nifty if not cool. This "dumb coal miner's" opinion was being wined and dined and sought. Well, not really wined as most meetings were at nonalcoholic restaurants. Candidates would call up inviting delegates to come, meet, greet, eat a meal, hear their positions, and field questions. Group meetings work best as one delegate would ask questions. This can refine your own thinking and formulate further questions. State and national polling firms call up and want your opinion. The county convention happens and candidates come through, are given a few minutes to speak, campaign, field questions, etc. The state convention came, and being inexperienced it was a big eye opener.

Now, today the Spring Glen Precinct caucus is much better represented and better attended. I would like to think partly due to mine and my wife Fran's efforts from when I was precinct chair. The 2012 Carbon County Caucus had approximately 450 attendees. State wide caucus attendance was over 120,000. The State of Utah has finally gotten a fourth congressional seat and the Republican Party now selects about four thousand delegates to convention. These delegates are selected from among their friends and neighbors at caucus. They represent their neighborhoods and are charged to meet and vet candidates for political office. By design each congressional district is apportioned approximately one thousand delegates to meet, greet, campaign and answer questions and at convention hopefully get a 60 percent vote endorsement. If, after balloting, 60 percent is not achieved then the top candidates are then involved in a primary. This was what happened when, at convention, Bob Bennett came in third behind Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee. Even though Bridgewater was ahead at convention Mike Lee won at primary and then in the November general election becoming one of our two national Senators.

Our past state party chairman, Tom Wright, brought the Count My Vote proposal to our attention about a year and a half ago. The people named in the Sun Advocate article wanted to force the Republican Party to raise the convention delegate vote to higher than 60 percent. This would cause more candidates to have to go to a primary. If the Republican Party would not raise the delegate vote percentage, thus putting more campaigns into primaries, then the consequence would be a signature drive to force a November general election ballot initiative to allow candidates to be on the primary ballot by the gathering of signatures.

At face value, the concept sounds good. Of course, the idea that my vote should count is important. Each and every vote should count. T. C. Mitts (The Common Man In The Street) is probably going to see, possibly a paid signature gatherer (think ACORN), or a petition form lying on a cashier counter at a gas station here in our area and be talked into signing. To borrow a phrase/concept from Rush Limbaugh, "the low information voter" is going to see these petitions, and not having researched the question/concepts, or maybe having heard something radio, TV wise, or maybe having read in media, Sun Advocate or Tribune, is readily going to sign. Thinking this is a good idea, my vote and your vote should count is a great thing.

The Count My Vote Initiative would create a method, that through the gathering of signatures, a candidate can bypass the caucus-meet delegates- get 60 percent at convention and force themselves into a primary, not getting vetted by our existing process. We all watched the torturous process in the 2012 election with the Republican Party, where state after state had statewide general primaries with bunches of candidates.

Who benefits? Should the Count My Vote Initiative pass, what should we be looking forward too? Should a candidate for political office not do well with the caucus - meet the delegates - convention process. Then with a great deal of publicity - meaning radio, TV, newspaper advertising, promotion of name recognition via deep pockets and outside cash endorsements - gather signatures and get on the primary ballot. Name recognition gets signatures on petition to get/force a primary vote, instead of coming through the caucus where people meet the delegate and get 60 a percent vote at convention vetting process and having a real chance in the general election.

Who benefits? Major media sees income. Deep pocket people see an opportunity to, for all intents and purposes "buy" a political position i.e. governorships, representative, congressional and/or senate seats. Foreign or outside of state dollars can "endorse" / buy influence forcing their political bent/position vicariously on us here locally intrastate.

Who gets damaged if a Count My Vote Initiative passes?

1) Rural Utah. Why should a candidate visit and campaign paying any attention to small locations/venues like, heaven forbid, Price, Huntington, Vernal, Castle Dale, Duchesne, or Moab. Candidates for a state office or a federal office like Congressman/Senator need only travel up and down the Wasatch Front, maybe going down the interstate to St. George getting signatures in heavily populated areas, buying name recognition.

Salt lake and Provo get big road investments. Rural Utah can't get US 6 upgraded to four lanes and suffers very bad collisions with fatalities. Rural vs. suburban issues are very different. With Count My Vote, rural Utah gets very ignored. I am not so old and senile, but that I remember extensive discussions about the Wasatch Behind (a borrowed phrase/concept from Tom McCourt) Eastern Utah leaving the Wasatch Front and its population from the great s tate of Utah and joining with Western Colorado and forming a new state. These areas were at that point in time being very ignored. Environmental issues in rural Utah are very big. Oil, coal, tar sands electricity - energy production/questions are large in rural Utah. Suburban populated areas like Salt Lake, Provo, and Ogden don't care as long as they can have gas in their cars and are warm in their homes.

2) Who owns the cute little donkey and the cute little elephant, the symbols of the Democratic and the Republican parties? This falls under the concept known as "branding". With Count My Vote Initiative, a candidate with enough backing/deep pockets can buy name recognition by getting signatures and can declare himself a Democrat or Republican forcing his name onto a primary ballot and possibly stealing a party endorsement from the party vetted candidate coming up through the caucus - convention system process. Can you see a DINO (Democrat In Name Only), or a RINO (Republican In Name Only) problem cropping up? Especially if a party endorsement can be hijacked, stealing the developed party brand without any party plank adhesion/following or party vetting.

Chairman Wright initiated this discussion and we, at the State Central Committee, have thoroughly thrashed this issue. We, at the Central Committee, have gone back, looking at when and why the 60 percent threshold was arrived at. We looked at how many candidate races have gone to primaries. We've held special meetings. We've broken the issue into bits and pieces and voted on each and every bit and piece. We even held a special meeting early in the morning, before this past organizing convention and voted on this issue and a couple of others.

Our current chairman, James Evens, is very concerned and we have formed committee(s) specifically addressing this issue and the reasoning behind it.

The My Vote Counts is a Republican concept and a partial play off the Count My Vote campaign that addresses the issues raised. We are looking at the logics and perceived problems behind the My Vote Counts and are working on these questions. These are works in progress and not a single "this is what we are going to do".

The State of Utah has for the past few years, been consistently named "the best ran state" in the United States. This is the product of the process of caucus - meet the delegates - convention process of political office candidate selection.

Do we need to fix what is not broken and then suffer the unintended consequences?

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