Mainstream Republicans are proposing an unusual way to reverse action by GOP hard-liners that would disqualify candidates who gather signatures on the ballot: legislation that would essentially force the party to behave as though the previous move had never happened.
Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, after consultation with legislative leaders and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, introduced HB485 on Friday to essentially ignore the party’s recent bylaw change.
“What we are saying is you can’t change the rules once the election has already started,” McKell said, referring to last week’s vote by conservative members of the Republican State Central Committee to disqualify candidates in some races from collecting signatures to get on the ballot.
“We’re simply saying, ‘Party, you made an election in November and that’s what we’re going to recognize: those rules.’”
McKell said he expects lawsuits on the issue, perhaps from several sides.
“It is very clear that the State Central Committee was attempting to get sued when they passed an illegal law,” he said. “I think litigation was imminent if we acted or not.”
His bill is being criticized both by hard-liners and by at least one group that argues the Republican Party should be punished for acting in violation of state election laws.
Don Guymon, a central committee member who supports punishing signature collectors, said McKell’s bill “infringes on free speech even more, and gives the party no power over its membership.” He said hard-liners are reviewing the bill and discussing what to do. “There’s a lot of concerns we have.”
Josh Kanter, chairman of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, issued a statement criticizing the McKell bill.
“Stepping in with a solution that suggests we pretend nothing happened is a tactic for children, not state leaders,” Kanter said. “Utahns’ trust in our Legislature and the majority party will only continue to erode with legislative gamesmanship like this, thus decreasing overall trust in our state government while increasing constituent frustration.”