Perspectives: Tricking voters into giving up their voice

OPINION – Utah could be the scene of one of the biggest political mistakes in nearly a century. And like the first mistake, it could cost voters crucial influence while falsely promising a stronger voice.

One hundred years ago, the American people were conned into ratifying the 17th Amendment. This amendment was promoted under the guise that allowing the direct election of senators would strengthen the peoples’ voice by popular vote. Prior to this, each state legislature was responsible for selecting its federal senators.

Direct election of senators gave the illusion that the people had a greater say in their governance. But, in reality, the federal government assumed greater influence over their lives as the states lost essential representation at the federal level.

The masses are notoriously easy to sway and that lesson may once again be coming home to Utah.

This year, the Utah Republican Party is struggling with the defining issue over whether to keep or do away with the caucus convention system. This is the system that determines how party candidates are selected for the general election.

Notable figures like former governor Mike Leavitt and University of Utah’s Kirk Jowers are stumping for sweeping changes. They’d like to see the threshold raised from 60 to 70 percent support at convention for a candidate to claim the party’s nomination. They also wish to see those who aren’t delegates having a greater say in choosing candidates.

They claim that electing delegates at precinct caucuses who, in turn, vet and select the candidates who will be on the ballot is exclusive. But this system mirrors the representative republic form of government on which our country was founded.

If the people aren’t having a greater say in the candidate selection process, it’s because they are apathetic about participating. Anyone can participate in their party’s precinct caucus meetings and can seek election as a delegate. All that’s required is to show up for a couple of hours every other year and talk with your neighbors. Is that setting the bar too high?

Delegates are chosen by their neighbors and spend many hours studying the issues, taking phone calls, and vetting the candidates thoroughly. This is done on their own time, without compensation. When they get to their state or county conventions, most delegates are extremely well informed. The delegates are not easily bamboozled by well-funded advertising campaigns.

This cannot be said of many members of the voting public whose deepest contemplation of the candidates and issues takes place in the voting booth.

Connor Boyack explains: “The system is not broken — our general commitment to civic duty is. Republican state delegates are not extremist activists out of step with their base — the base is out of step with the party’s platform. Having such a small group influence or determine the outcome of nominations does not create an imbalance — it tempers the passions and deception which can so easily influence the masses.”

This understanding is not lost on political power-seekers. When state delegates ousted Bob Bennett at the 2010 Republican state convention, analysts insisted that the system had been corrupted. But the reality was that the delegates had carefully weighed Bennett’s record and found him lacking. They chose instead to send Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater to the primary election, since both candidates more closely adhered to the party platform.

The masses of largely uninformed voters who had not done their homework and vetted Bennett’s actions would likely have voted him back in. This places undue influence in the hands of those candidates who are very well funded or who employ the slickest propagandists to promote them.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that pure democracy is the best way to make our voices heard. But our precinct caucuses are where we can leverage our voices most effectively by electing well-informed individuals who can make good decisions in vetting potential candidates.

We don’t have to be rich or well connected to have real impact. All we need to do is show up and participate. Our voices can be heard at the grassroots level where they may be drowned out in the uninformed masses.

Let’s not make the same mistake the American people made 100 years ago.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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15 Comments

  • Balzo Flahnerty April 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Boy, you’ve been drinking the cool aid again, I see. . .

  • utah_1 April 18, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Actually, the current system doesn’t favor the incumbents, the famous or wealthy, and that keeps elections more fair.

    The caucus system delegates, selected by their neighbors, picked the more moderate Tim Bridgewater in 2010, it was at the Primary that Mike Lee was selected as the party nominee. The voters were mad enough about TARP and ObamaCare that Sen. Bennett, who had endorsed Tim Bridgewater for the Primary, would not have likely done much better.

    Whether or not the 17th amendment fixed one problem and created another isn’t the point.

    he Caucus System in Utah is the best way to make sure grass roots movements can work over large amounts of money. It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2,000,000 in election funds.

    There were about 120,000 republicans in Utah that went to the neighborhood caucus elections in 2012 to elect the 4000 State Delegates. Add to those numbers the democrats and the primary elections. Certainly the municipal elections didn’t do any better in voter representation.
    Most people who want the caucus system changed, there are exceptions, are frustrated that they don’t have as much power as people who show up to the neighborhood election caucus meetings. It doesn’t take money; you just have to show up.

    Bypassing the Caucus / Convention System will NOT create more participation. Approx. one out of every 4 or 5 republicans attended their neighborhood election caucus meeting this last year. One in every three told a KSL poll they were involved or attending. There are 4000 state delegates that spend countless hours vetting candidates to be on the ballot. They are selected by those that attend the neighborhood election caucus meeting. You just have to attend.

    When people realize this “County My Vote initiative will give them less of a chance to participate but give media and power brokers more power, they will not sign any initiative. This is a power grab.

    If you are going to run as a democratic candidate, you have to comply with their rules. If you are going to run as a republican, you have to comply with their rules. If you want to run and not have those rules, you can run as an unaffiliated or independent, or run as a 3rd party candidate. This “Count My Vote initiative is an attempt to change the party rules by state law, bypassing the party and is even an attempt to change the law bypassing the legislature.

    It doesn’t mean things can’t be better, but this isn’t the way to do it.

    We already have a large percentage of contested races go to primary. If we have more primaries, we are apt to have more last minute attack pieces and more ethics problems. There will also be a need for more political donations raised for the more expensive races. We don’t need to provide more power to the lobbyists.

  • Daniel April 18, 2013 at 10:49 am

    I agree with everything said in this article, but there is correction that needs to be address and one point that I don’t 100% agree with:

    First, the article said: “But the reality was that the delegates had carefully weighed Bennett’s record and found him lacking. They chose instead to nominate Mike Lee, who more closely adhered to the party platform.” In fact, the delegates did not choose Mike Lee, there were two candidates who did not get enough support at the convention and there was a primary election held, in which Mike Lee won that election. Tim Bridgewater was the other candidate.

    Second, the article said: The delegates are not easily bamboozled by well-funded advertising campaigns.” I personally disagree with that, my experience with the last convention is witch Orrin Hatch was able to bamboozle delegates by well-funded advertising seemed pretty easily done. But again, that is my opinion.

    • SomeYounGuy April 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Orin Hatch had more than just being well funded. I think he used his ties with the LDS church to sway the caucus meetings in order to get delegates to vote for him…. The several caucus meetings before last we had only a couple people show up to the meetings and most of them were like minded in getting Bob Bennett voted out… But this last caucus, there was suddenly a lack of apathy among all the precinct for our caucus because almost 10 times more people showed up, “Including the stake president” and they all “Knew Orin Hatch” on a personal level and were voted in by overwhelming odds as our delegates who wanted Orin Hatch in, but have never before heard of a caucus meeting and didn’t care other than were there to support their stake president, who was the first state delegate to get elected in our caucus. The mass support greatly outnumbered our 10 or so that didn’t want Orin Hatch in… It was depressing to see so many people jump in to support him without even listening to the reasoning of the 10 of us who knew better.

  • Balzo Flahnerty April 18, 2013 at 11:18 am

    This whole political system is corrupt. Not saying it is any worse than any other, just that the whole thing is corrupt, and all politicians are pretty much “bought and paid for.”

    All you have to do, is to look at the way primarys are held here. If you want a say in the primary, you have to register as a republican. I do happen to be republican, but even I see how this throws the whole thing out of balance.

    OK, good old boys, bring it on!

    • Daniel April 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Balzo, I dont think you understand how a primary works and what purpose it is to serve. A primary is for members of a specific political party to decided who they want to represent that party in the general election. It makes no sense to have an open primary so that people who are not members of that political party vote and have a say in who that party has on the general election ticket. To put it clearer, if I am the Utah Republican Party I dont want democrats voting in my primary to elect who will be on the Republican ticket at the general election, and vice versa. The primary system isn’t what throws the whole thing out of balance, uninformed voters do.

  • Cyndi April 18, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Stopped going to my caucus meetings when my delegate spent hours researching the candidates, did a thorough report on his findings and gave a personal recommendation based on party platform ideals. He was then lectured by the “party” that he picked the wrong person, – it wasn’t about the best candidate, just who had the best chance of winning for the party, and was strongly discouraged from ever serving again. Decided to un-register from a party that discourages personal research, now I don’t even get to vote in primaries. So much for power at the grass roots level in Utah. Personally I’m curious what the reform would or wouldn’t look like in practice.

  • Big Don April 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    I am inclined to believe that “reform” = “business as usual, just under a different name.”

  • Brian G. April 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Good article Bryan! The ability for a candidate to sit down and talk with all 4,000 delegates is achievable. They really do get a chance to become very informed, and get any issues addressed. Of course I do believe the local elections (caucus) would be benefited by a better turn out (although my last precinct caucus had a record turnout), also I would like more communication between the neighbors and delegates. Overall though the system as it stands, is solid, and I believe one of the reasons Utah is one of the best managed states.

  • William April 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Excellent article, Bryan. This articulates the situation very well. I listened to your show today, and you made very clear and cogent points. One caller, about 2:30 pm, was utterly confused. He claims to have run for the office of commissioner. If his logic then was as confused as it was today, it was not the system that defeated him, but rather himself.

    I too have been very active in the political system in Utah. At one point I was a candidate for the US House. I have observed processes in other states; NY, CA, MD, VT. for examples. Utah’s caucus system is clearly the strongest of the bunch. I have also been trained in campaign management by the NRCC. Clearly, by a wide majority, it is the career politicians that fear the delegate process.

    Gov. Leavitt and his associates recognize that the caucus system is the fundamental process for the people’s voice to be heard, unobstructed by “flash media”. I use the phrase “Roving Republicans” (named for Karl Rove) to describe centrist to left leaning Republicans (RINO in some nomenclature). The roving republicans are intent on making the Republican Party the master party rather than a party of principle.

    Finally, much blame has been laid at the feet of Mitt Romney (far to liberal for my taste) for his defeat. Maybe, maybe not. He had no shortage of money. Yes, the MSM overbalanced the campaign in Obama’s favor, but still Romney got plenty of coverage. But here is an undisputed fact. Barack Obama used an extensive team of psychologist and sociologist, in conjunction with his publicity team to sway the American public. As you pointed out the “masses” are easily persuaded by tactics. In fact for many years the distinction between Republican and Democrat congressional campaigns was that the “Ds” focused on tactics while the “Rs” focused on strategy. Tactics require very little understanding by the general population. Strategy however requires extensive engagement of the people. With the advent of Rover Republicans both parties began focusing on tactical campaigns. Democrats generally defeat Republicans in that scenario because (this will offend some folks) the bulk of the people are less principle focused. They simply need less “thinking” to be persuaded. That was why Obama won, even as a clearly substantively weaker candidate. All he needed was for his “Psych Squad” to manipulate the message to a dullard public. That my friends is what Gov. Leavitt, et al desire with change to the caucus system.

  • Chris April 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    The 17th amendment was not ratified by the “American people”, as you say, but rather by the state legislatures. If the legislatures were “conned” in this circumstance, then what makes you think they are any wiser in their actions than the masses are in direct elections?

  • William April 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Sadly, one of Utah’s members of Congress was one of the chief advocates of the 17th amendment.

  • Karen April 20, 2013 at 7:28 am

    The far-right’s disdain for the “masses” as illustrated by Mr. Hyde’s article is exactly why the 17th Amendment is so important to the United States. Apparently, he and Mike Lee have forgotten the history of the amendment. Does the name William Andrew Clark from Montana ring a bell? He was one of the Copper Kings who bribed the Montana legislators into electing him as a senator. The scandal was one of the reasons for the 17th amendment. Is anyone naive enough to think it won’t happen again if Mike Lee gets his way and the county repeals it. (Frankly, I’m not worried about that.) Mike Lee is far out of the mainstream of America. Hopefully he’ll be a one-term senator.

    Mr. Hyde also fails to point out that Utah’s caucus system is now the ONLY one in the nation where an incumbent can be ousted at a convention. How I wish we still had Bob Bennett representing us.

    • Daniel April 21, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Those Founding Fathers, they really had no idea what they were doing huh? I am so glad people much smarter than them could fix their misstakes. It’s not like they could have possibly envisioned corruption and addressed that through letting the people vote out those who engage in it…. oh wait

  • William April 20, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Wow, Karen. Wow! Naive has been taken to a new level.

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