This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Political insiders in Utah don't want anybody talking seriously about changing the way candidates make it onto the election ballot, and for good reason. The status quo, in which a small group of conservative Republicans, not average voters, chooses our leaders, protects those who understand how the system works and can manipulate it to get elected. And re-elected. And re-elected.
The same is true for Democrats, but, in Republican-dominated Utah, the GOP candidate is usually the eventual winner.
It seems a few Republican mavericks are whispering that the present caucus system might be ripe for change. They don't want to speak too loudly or publicly, but some hope they can gather enough supporters for a direct-primary system before they're silenced by the few who now run the party and, in turn, the state.
We support this quiet insurgency. The caucus system, in which comparatively moderate Republicans such as Bob Bennett and Olene Walker who are willing to work in a bipartisan fashion can be ousted without the consent of a majority of Utah voters, should be changed. It creates a governing elite and contributes to Utah's embarrassingly low voter turnout.
This is the way it works: Delegates, who often come from the rightist fringes of the GOP, choose candidates for the ballot. All candidates, incumbent or novice, must run this gauntlet before voters get to pick from among the survivors. And it can be a harrowing litmus test of loyalty to party ideology, or, as it has evolved in Utah, right-wing ideology.
As the U.S. financial system unraveled in 2008, Bennett committed the apparently unpardonable sin of voting for the Bush bank bailout law that likely staved off a severe depression. Walker, who became Utah's first female governor when Mike Leavitt took a federal job, put her decades of experience as a legislator and lieutenant governor to good use while in office. Both Bennett and Walker were popular with Utahns, but neither gained a place on the primary ballot. The hard-right delegates said no.
Gov. Gary Herbert, a former lieutenant governor who also became governor when his predecessor resigned, says caucuses allowed him, an ordinary guy and longtime politician, we might add to rise to power. Senate President Michael Waddoups calls caucuses a "closer-to-the-people" method of nominating candidates. That's ridiculous.
Only a direct primary, in which any candidate with a required number of signatures on a petition gets on the ballot, would bring elections to the people.