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.
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