This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Chairman James Evans' encouragement of intra-party attacks on GOP candidates who dared to gather signatures and his continued refusal to respect the law have divided the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Gov. Gary Herbert's 72 percent to 28 percent victory of epic proportions over Jonathan Johnson raises more questions than ever for the caucus system. The GOP delegates who gave Johnson a 55 percent-45 percent win at convention were not even close to actually representing Republican voters who overwhelmingly wanted Herbert.
This massive disparity between delegates and the actual voters they are supposed to represent calls the continued viability of the caucus system into question, while party leaders using their positions and party resources to fight Republican candidates who gathered signatures calls Evans' leadership into question.
The caucus/convention system is a beautiful concept, but suffers from several flaws: first, lack of accountability. Delegates are said to represent their neighborhoods, yet cast secret ballots at the conventions. There is no such thing as representation without accountability. For example, all votes taken by city councils and legislatures are public record, so voters can hold them accountable.
Second, the idea that Republicans should control how candidates reach the ballot because they are a "private organization" is nonsense. Political parties are free to choose internal officers however they wish, but there is nothing in the Constitution about political parties having a "right" to even be labeled on the ballot let alone to set the conditions for how their candidates reach the ballot. The people are the sovereign power in this country and can set conditions for accessing the ballot. Accordingly, the people's elected representatives in the Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill 54 that requires parties to accept signature gathering. The law was passed by a majority of both houses, signed by the governor, and has been upheld by both the Utah Supreme Court and the federal courts, and is the law of the land. Evans' vow to continue to battle candidates who gather signatures disrespects our representative system of government and the people of Utah.
Third, the caucus system is open to political maneuvering, and the effects are outsized because of the small number of delegates. It is now common practice for candidates to coordinate with family, friends, and supporters to become delegates not with any purpose to "vet" all candidates, but rather to support a particular candidate from the get-go.
In addition to concerns about the caucus, this primary exposed a leadership shortfall in the state GOP. Evans and party leaders declared war on candidates who collected signatures and didn't get 60 percent at convention. In my home county, for example, party leaders ignored the traditional primary election neutrality to campaign for the "convention winner," and used party funds donated by supporters of both candidates to make the biggest donation of the entire campaign to only one candidate. Party leaders and members also engaged in the most scurrilous rumor-mongering I have ever seen: viciously smearing a kind and talented woman who dared to collect signatures as a "closet Democrat," "pro-abortion," "anti-gun," "lesbian," and "transgender."
I have never been so genuinely ashamed of my party as when I saw it savage the character of a wonderful woman I respect and admire. There were two good people running, and party leaders should have remained neutral and respected voters enough to let them choose. Instead they encouraged a divisive environment of rumor and innuendo that ran straight into the gutter.
This did not happen in a vacuum. It happened in an environment of toxic leadership, where negative actions and insinuations by leaders are magnified and intensified as they go down the line. By fostering a negative, divisive climate, toxic leaders generate downstream rumors and smears that are far more offensive than anything they personally said.
Evans created this toxic climate by refusing to respect the people's will expressed via the Utah Legislature's passage of SB 54 and by encouraging party leaders to fight candidates who collected signatures, and he should to take responsibility for the divisive and disgraceful outcome and resign.
Perhaps there are ways to modify the caucus system to address its shortcomings: by eliminating the secret ballot and by increasing the threshold to avoid a primary. In any case, we need fresh leaders in the Republican Party who are willing to respect all sides and explore options, who are willing to treat all candidates who have the courage to run for office with dignity and neutrality, and who are able to bring the party back together and towards a positive versus divisive future.
Brent Taylor has been a registered Republican all his adult life and has served as a state delegate, county delegate and precinct chair. He is the mayor of North Ogden and a small businessman.