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Gehrke: Herbert standing up for voters in Chaffetz replacement

Published May 20, 2017 7:04 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

So now what?

Rep. Jason Chaffetz's announcement that he would resign his House seat effective June 30 essentially ends the argument between Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature over the process for his replacement.

Republicans in the House and Senate wanted to give a small group of delegates the power to choose nominees to replace Chaffetz — and threatened litigation and retaliation if Herbert didn't call a special session to clarify the law.



While it would have been tidier to have a special session, Herbert held his ground to protect the voters' voices in the process, instead of handing it all over to the party delegates — delegates who, by the way, have been hostile to him in the past.

Chaffetz, by the way, endorsed the governor's plan Thursday.

Candidates who don't go to the party conventions, to be held no later than June 19, will have a narrow window — about 24 days — to collect 7,000 signatures if they want to go directly to the primary ballot.

That's where Herbert could run into legal trouble. Assume a candidate falls a handful of signatures short of the threshold. You can bet that candidate would go to court challenging the governor's unilateral decision to shorten the signature-gathering period outlined in the law. If the courts delay the timeline, the rest of the dominoes could tip and there could be chaos.

Legislative attorneys have advised lawmakers that the governor is also vulnerable to legal challenge over any of the several instances where he tries to speed up the process laid out in the law.

It is, certainly, a seat-of-the-pants election and is far from ideal. It would have been great if lawmakers had specified a process any time in the last 120 years. But just because they didn't, doesn't mean we're in the wilderness. The law defines "elections" to include special elections like this one, and we do have a process for conducting elections.

Central to that process is the Legislature's relatively recent policy decision that it is better for our democracy if we don't force candidates to dance before delegates to get on the primary ballot and instead provide another path, the signature-gathering route.

Why then, would a special election be any different? In the Republican case, why would we trust roughly 500 partisan delegates — a majority of the roughly 1,000 total delegates in the 3rd Congressional District — who studies have shown do not even represent the mainstream of their party, much less the district, to pick the next member of House representing roughly 750,000 Utahns?

There was urgency, House Speaker Greg Hughes argued. With all that is going on in Washington with rescinding Bears Ears and overhauling the tax code and repealing Obamacare, Utah can't be without its fourth representative. Look at the House vote to repeal Obamacare, he contends.

Chaffetz rallied from foot surgery to return to Washington to do what? Help House Republicans pass a bill that is already dead in the Senate in order to spare the party the embarrassment of having another repeal effort crumble.

Under the governor's timeline the seat would be vacant for just over four months — June to November — which sounds like a long time. Except, can you name anything Rep. Mia Love has done in the last four months? How about Rep. Chris Stewart?

Feel free to get back to me on that one.

Georgia is about to hold a special election on June 20 for a seat that was vacated Feb. 11 — a span of just over four months. California has a special election scheduled next month to fill a seat that, by then, will be vacant for four months. And Kansas, Montana and South Carolina are going or have gone three months with vacant House seats.

And yet the Republic survives.

The real kicker is that, because of Congress' always-grueling work schedule and various weekends and vacations, the House only has a grand total of 43 work days between now and November.

The vast majority of Utahns are with Herbert on this issue. A poll released this week by UtahPolicy.com showed that 76 percent support having primary and general elections, while 19 percent thought the party delegates should choose nominees. That's a margin of four-to-one.

In this instance, it's refreshing to see the governor right on the policy, with popular support, taking a strong stance to defend Utah voters.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

 

 

 

 

 

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