CEDAR CITY – The Iron County Republican delegation may have conducted business as usual at Saturday’s convention but the outcome in one race was predetermined because of a controversial new law upheld by a federal judge late Friday.
Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 54 in 2013, incumbent County Commissioner Alma Adams, who garnered 68 percent of the votes from delegates Saturday, would have avoided a primary and a guaranteed spot on a November ballot after securing a majority of the votes at the convention. Not now.
Under the new law, candidates can collect a specified number of signatures to drive their challengers into a primary despite convention results.
U.S. District Judge David Nuffer upheld Utah’s new election law known as the Count My Vote Compromise, in a ruling issued late Friday.
Nuffer determined Republican candidates may access the primary election ballot in one of two ways – either through gathering enough signatures to be placed on the ballot or through the state’s more conventional caucus and convention system that allows delegates to choose candidates.
The judge ruled the signature-gathering method, laid out in SB 54, “is a legitimate exercise of the state’s power to regulate elections” and “does not impair the Utah Republican Party’s constitutional rights.”
In the race for Seat C on the Iron County Commission, Adams and his two opponents, Sam Brower and Jody Edwards, all gathered the necessary 421 signatures prior to the convention for a primary in June.
“I wish I would have never heard of Count My Vote,” Adams said. “If not for Senate Bill 54, I’d be done and on the November ballot but now I get to go through a primary.”
Iron County Republican Chairman Ryan Nelson said the new law really undermines the convention process since candidates can essentially bypass it.
“All that they get out of this, from my perspective, all I can see is that they get the official support of the caucus convention,” Nelson said. “But I’ll tell you this, it’s a travesty because already I’ve had candidates ask me, ‘why are we even coming to convention when we’re already going to a primary?’”
Nelson said under the law all three candidates can designate themselves Republicans, but the party cannot support or endorse any of them as the party’s candidate of choice.
“Everybody can put an R by their name and I can’t do anything about it,” he said. “All that can happen, is what the candidate may do is say, ‘I’m the convention candidate. I received the convention vote.’”
Several delegates during the convention discussed among themselves how the new law affected the process, even before the convention.
“I didn’t get one call from any of the candidates running in this race – not one,” said one delegate. “Normally, at least two of the candidates would have reached out to let me know who they are and what they were about, if not all three of them. It was weird.”
Others said they noticed some of the candidates didn’t have a political table with information available about themselves for delegates to study.
“That was really different,” one delegate said. “You always see candidates with their tables and stuff out. They’re politicking and this time there really wasn’t a lot of that.”
Brower who received 40 votes was eliminated in the first round of voting. He lost to Edwards by only one vote.
Both Edwards and Brower said they were glad the convention process wasn’t the end of the race.
“When I was out collecting signatures I talked to at least 1,000 people,” Brower said. “It was very enlightening and educational. They talked to me about their concerns, what they wanted to see from their local leaders, the major problems they saw and some people didn’t even know what was going on. But that’s all part of the process and it’s good, not only for me but I also get a chance to educate the people.”
Brower said he believes he has a good chance of winning in the primary.
“The delegation and the primary are two different breeds of cat,” Brower said. “I do think I have a good chance in the primary because in the convention the incumbent already has a delegation infrastructure in place and his political loyalties and allegiances and that’s hard to beat.”
Edwards and his wife, Joyce, said they met many people in the process of collecting their signatures and were excited to talk to the voters.
“I think what I was most grateful about regarding the signature process is it forced me to get into people’s homes and that is true grass roots,” Edwards said. “In fact as I’ve been talking about this with Joyce, that is what we’re going to do in May is keep going door to door. That’s the most fun I’ve had in this process is meeting with people in their own homes.”
Edwards said he believes Adams worked hard to win at convention but doesn’t think just because of that, he should continue as commissioner.
“It’s hard to unseat an incumbent, it really is. I’m sure he worked hard to get these votes, much like Orrin Hatch,” Edwards said. “But does that mean I think he should continue in office for more of the same – no, absolutely not.”
While he wishes he didn’t have a primary ahead of him, Adams said he is confident and is looking forward to a primary.
“I love serving and talking about the issues,” Adams said. “It would’ve been nice to not have to go through a primary but I’m looking forward to meeting and talking with voters and I hope we (candidates) can keep things clean and not get aggressive in our campaigning.”
The race for Seat C is one of two for the county commission. The other is for Seat A that was opened up by the resignation of former Commissioner Dave Miller whose last day was March 25.
Since Miller had stepped down mid-term the Iron County Central Committee was required to appoint an interim commissioner to fill the position until January when the newly elected commissioner will be sworn in. Commission Seat C is for a full four-year term while A is for the remainder of Miller’s time, two years.
The committee is made of the local party leadership, precinct chairs and vice chairs and the elected leaders from the county.
In that race, Republican candidates included Gary Howe, Mike Bleak, Gaylord Ivan Robb, Casey O. Anderson, Megan K. Gower and James M. Lunt. Bower and former Cedar City Councilman John Black also applied for the appointment.
The committee met prior to the convention at 10 a.m. and selected Anderson after three rounds of voting.
“So we could have done the committee meeting afterwards but then the candidate who won in the convention would have an upper leg with the committee,” he said. “So really, it doesn’t matter which way we did it because either way they would have had some kind of advantage.”
Unlike the other race, candidates for Seat A weren’t allowed to collect signatures to guarantee a primary. Instead, they had to win 60 percent in convention to win the party’s nomination.
Bleak and Anderson, who both came in with less than 60 percent of the vote from delegates, will face off in a June primary.
Anderson who has repeatedly done well with delegates in previous elections said he is excited to get out and meet with voters in a primary.
“I feel great about the support I received today and I am planning on continuing to reach out to voters and I hope they’ll be open to hearing what I have to say and have an open mind,” Anderson said. “I hope the voters will judge me on my character and my understanding of the issues. I’m looking forward to reaching out and visiting with people.”
Anderson also said he wants to give people more of a voice and get them involved in local county government.
Bleak did not respond to requests for comment.
In other business, the central committee voted to send the Republican State Party $5,000 to support the fight against the Count My Vote Compromise.
Some news agencies have reported that the party has said it will not follow the law despite the court’s ruling. However, State Party Chairman James Evans denied those allegations in an interview with Cedar City News Friday.
“We have always followed the law and this is no different,” Evans said. “We will continue to follow the law no matter what.”
Twitter: @tracie _sullivan
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