Monday, April 28, 2008

The critics of the Utah County GOP incumbent protection policies were right, plus Houskeeper stirs the pot in District 60 caucus

Linda Houskeeper ran her campaign almost exclusively on changing the insider policies that keep power concentrated in the hands of a few individuals within the Utah County GOP. The automatic delegates were her main focus in cottage meetings and in her speech Saturday at the House District 60 Caucus. Houskeeper is a sincere, motivated person despite lacking some polish while speaking publically, and almost all of the delegates I spoke with shared at least some of her concerns. However, her focus didn’t always put her in the best of light. It made her seem like a one-issue candidate and came off as negative to a couple delegates I spoke with. Brad Daw is very articulate and down-to-earth and comes off as much more well-versed in the issues. Despite all of that, Brad Daw only garnered 60.4% of the delegate votes Saturday, meaning just one person voting differently would have dropped Daw below the 60% threshold, forcing a primary for the Republican nomination.

[Sidebar into automatic or ex officio delegate opinions. Very few delegates thought the practice was completely justified. Brad Daw said in reply to Houskeeper that he believed that all of the automatic delegates were elected at some time and their votes were justified. (Not an exact quote.) I don’t think most bought that. A very involved, conservative delegate explained that he was OK with the elected party officials of the county and state having automatic votes, but not with former party chairs having lifelong voting positions and the discretionary delegates appointed by the party chairman, currently Marian Monnahan, often in reward for things like organizing a fund-raising event. Others agree with Houskeeper that none of the automatic delegates should be allowed—that being elected in a vote of precinct chairs as party education chair or treasurer does not mean that you represent your precinct and should take a slot from someone else.

I fall more to that final side. I think that higher elected officials should be elected again in their precinct if they want a caucus vote, just like the “little guys” who show up and participate. The grass roots nature of the precinct caucuses should be preserved and voice given to those for whom higher political office is not desirable or feasible. I am not worried about the County GOP Chair or the Lieutenant Governor lacking a voice; the current office holders already have influence and a place at the table. Why should they automatically get two?]

The play-by-play:

Brad Daw gave his speech about his accomplishments and was clear and believable as usual. Linda Houskeeper started her speech making points about her being a normal person and not an insider. She recounted her first cottage meeting when Daw was first running for the legislature and that he answered a question about an issue, “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask the party how they want me to vote on that.” Daw is a nice guy, but if true, that is exactly the kind of insider garbage that people are mad about. There was a lot of whispering among the delegates here as they discussed her charge.

She then proceeded to use some homemade paper cut-outs of runners starting at different places in a race to make her point about automatic delegates. It was a good metaphor, but using cut-outs came off kind of silly. She explained how it wasn’t fair that 10 of 95 delegates in District 60 weren’t elected in their precinct meetings (That’s 10.5% if everyone showed up. Only 86 voted, leaving open the possibility that 11.6% of those votes were from automatic delegates.), and then she really started the minor uproar. She turned to Daw right in the middle of her speech and asked him if he would agree to have the automatic delegates in the room disallowed from voting. Everyone was taken by surprise and some delegates audibly gasped. Daw looked shocked and asked the District Chair, Ivan Keller, if he was permitted to answer her. While he deliberated, a particularly outspoken delegate in the back, former Daw primary opponent Calvin Harper, made a motion that the rest of the delegates vote on whether to include the automatic delegates. (He made a few other comments during the meeting as well.) It was seconded, but Keller ruled that it was out-of-order because the rules had already been voted on in committee earlier in the morning. There were a few minutes of confusion, and Lt. Governor Gary Herbert spoke up telling Houskeeper that he was an automatic delegate and intended to vote. Daw eventually replied that he believed all of the delegates had been elected in some fashion and deserved to vote.

Houskeeper then turned to some of the automatic delegates on the front row and asked them if they would voluntarily recuse their vote. None of them agreed. She made a final point about the delegates and finished. The room buzzed with delegates discussing the happenings and there was some argument about the motion to have the delegates vote on the automatic delegates. (If any of this is slightly out of order, sorry. It was a lot to remember.)

We voted and the box was taken to the central counting area along with watchers from both sides. There was free discussion for 10-15 minutes as we waited for the results. Herbert and Houskeeper apparently know each other personally and Herbert tried to broach the issue with Houskeeper. She said, “We just disagree on this issue Gary,” and turned away. Daw was visibly upset and quietly complained about it being a “cheapshot.” I’m not sure if he was referring to the ask-the-party comment or the attempt to disallow the automatic delegates. An automatic lifetime delegate named Ashby (or something very close to that) repeated the point to Daw that everyone had been elected.

And here’s my point. This Ashby guy was the GOP County Chair sometime in the past. He now is an automatic county (and state? I don’t know. Fill me in anyone?) delegate for the rest of his life. One more former chair and lifetime delegate named Shallenberger also lives in our district. I am not sure if he was there. I already explained how I don’t think that Herbert needs an automatic vote and I am making the fairly confident assumption that all 3 voted for Daw. There were other auto-delegates, but I don’t know their names or positions. What if any of the three I’ve discussed had been replaced by a local person from a precinct? Houskeeper would have achieved a primary if only one person voted differently, or if two of those three weren’t allowed to vote. The same situation happened in Rep. Grover’s District 61 and Rep. Tilton’s District 65 where his challenger reached 60% by two votes. I don’t know what percentage of their districts’ delegates are automatic, and it probably wasn’t the factor in Tilton’s race since he was the incumbent, but who knows? The automatic delegates, instituted in 2000 I believe, obviously played a huge role in these precincts and probably changed the results in favor of the incumbents, Daw and Grover.

Additionally, only 2 of the 7 contested races featured someone reaching 70% (including Sumsion who got 96% with his opponent apparently dropping out), which was the more reasonable standard until the year 2001. Another delegate and my father told me the rule was changed because Senator Orrin Hatch had almost been forced into a primary the year before (He was booed at the state convention my father recalled with a chuckle.) and the party insiders wanted to prevent a repeat. The threshold was lowered to 60% EXPLICITLY to protect incumbents, and this is common knowledge among longtime party participants.

If automatic delegates and the lowered threshold for a primary had not been in place, 5 of the 7 races would be into a primary, allowing the party rank-and-file to decide the outcome. That includes Senator Bramble’s race, despite his assertion that "I think misrepresentations and negative campaigning were proven to once again be an unsuccessful strategy…"
Final note—Lt. Governor Herbert addressed our caucus for a few minutes just before the results came back. He talked a lot about making a difference, but his first point was that the county and state party bylaws should match and that he was going to try to remedy the discrepancies. I, for one, will be watching to see if he keeps that promise. He repeated the good news from Friday that Utah has been rated the best-managed state in the nation. He ended by alluding again to the recent intra-party disagreements. He claimed that he appreciated divergent views in the party, but that he wanted to build consensus.


Anonymous said...

My name is Ron Seamons and the meeting that Linda Housekeeper alleged that Brad Daw said he would have to ask the party. I was at the meeting in question. It was at my house and what Brad said was that he would be an independent voice for us and not be a party man. Brad has proved to be a great consensus builder, but has never voted only the way the party wanted him to. He is a great example of an independent voice working inside the present system to meet the needs of his constituents. I want all to know that Brad has always represented my views and those of his other constituents. I am not presently in any party position, but I have been very impressed that Brad Daw has given updates on his actions to all who desire it. We need more representatives like Brad Daw! As to the automatic delegates, they are an issue for the Utah County Central Committee to address. Please let your Precinct Chairs and Vice-Chairs know how you feel as well as Marian Monahan so that they can represent you at the next Central Committee Meeting where these things can be changed. Circumventing the system is not a good way to make changes, but rather having the changes made through established channels makes the changes stick. I agree we need changes, but in the proper way so that they stick and are the voice of the majority. Thanks

UtahTeacher said...

Thank you for the additional information Mr. Seamons! It would be great to hear from anyone else who was at said meeting as now the two different versions of the story are completely opposite.

I agree that Rep. Daw is good a communicating with his constituents and a very easy person to talk to. I like him personally. I don't know if I agree about his independence...he voted almost strictly party line in the session this year. And I definitely don't trust Marian Monnahan, the Brambles, Lockhearts, etc. to make more open changes without significant public pressure. Monnahan recently said she wants to change the constitution so that DeGaston and other members of the public can't get lists of the delegates and see who is automatic.