The Big Red Panic Button
In Utah, we have something like a big red panic button built into our lawmaking process. When citizens don’t feel like the legislature is addressing their priorities, there is a way to enact state laws without the legislature. It’s called a Citizen Initiated State Statute.
Currently, there are 5 separate formally registered citizen initiatives in process to appear on the 2018 ballot. That’s more than we’ve ever had. It reflects a pretty deep dissatisfaction with our elected legislature. Even a quick look at the initiatives confirms the dynamics in play. Most of these initiatives are moderate, common sense measures that enjoy broad popular support but are scorned within an extremely conservative and intensely partisan Republican legislature.
The Count My Vote initiative is particularly interesting because gets to the heart of the disconnect between the legislature and the citizenry. You would think that dissatisfied voters would simply replace legislators in the next election. The reality, though, is that the caucus system allows a vocal and activist minority within the Republican party to choose who gets on the ballot. Voters are free to pick any candidate they like, as long as he’s a hard right Republican loyalist.
The special election to replace Jason Chaffetz is a perfect example of how the caucus system works. The caucus system produced a hard-line ideological candidate, Chris Herrod. A new election law, SB-54, however, allowed a more moderate candidate, John Curtis, to also get on the ballot. John Curtis won handily in a direct primary election after taking 5th place in the caucus system. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the state Republican party has almost bankrupted itself with a lawsuit fighting to overturn SB-54 and have it declared unconstitutional.
Republican apparatchiks have had an oversized influence over public policy in Utah for way too long. In the isolation of their ideological echo chamber, they find it hard to hear the real needs and concerns of ordinary voters.
Citizens initiatives are a very expensive and, over time, very inefficient way to pass laws. Good laws need to be updated and amended over time so they respond to changing circumstances and correct for unintended consequences. The United Utah party believes that the best long term solution is a responsive legislature. It sees these citizen initiatives as a big red panic button and a call to action.