What’s the Deal with the UTGOP Convention?

Ever wonder what goes on behind closed doors, in smoke-filled rooms, as Utah’s political parties get together to organize their members, review their platforms and plan their priorities for the coming year?

Well, you don’t have to wonder – the doors aren’t closed, there’s no smoke in the rooms, and the public is welcome to stop by and view democracy in action at the upcoming state party organizing conventions.

The Utah Republican Party Organizing Convention is set for Saturday, May 20 at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, with registration at 7 a.m. and the convention beginning at 10 a.m.

The Utah Democratic Party’s State Organizing Convention is scheduled for Saturday, June 17 at Weber State University in Ogden. A new platform is in the works for the Democratic Party, with public feedback being accepted through the end of this week; we’ll have more on that as the event draws closer.

The Republican Party retains a platform ratified at the 2009 state convention, which remains relevant to current events in many areas, including:

  • the environment (“We oppose as unconstitutional the declaration by any President without approval from Congress of any large tract of land as a national monument”);
  • immigration (“We support suspending automatic U.S. citizenship to children born to illegal immigrant parents”);
  • human services (“We believe that the primary responsibility for meeting basic human needs rests with the individual, the family, and the voluntary charitable organizations”); and
  • equal rights (“We believe that no individual is entitled to rights that exceed or supersede the God-given individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Utah”).

And the almost 3,800 state delegates at the GOP convention will have plenty to keep them busy: electing state party officers, considering resolutions, and debating amendments and other proposals.

“One issue that’s of note, that is timely, is how we can move forward to replace or put forward a name if a member of our U.S. House of Representatives resigns,” current State Republican Party Chairman James Evans told Cache Valley Daily earlier this week. “The reason that’s timely is because there is a lot of talk that Congressman [Jason] Chaffetz is going to be stepping down. So we’ve had to change our governing documents to make sure we have a provision to address that.” The provision, which comes into play now that Chaffetz is indeed resigning, would call for a caucus of state delegates to elect the party’s nominee for the special election.

However, a recent poll commissioned by Utahpolicy.com found that 76% of Utahns believe all voters, rather than just party delegates, should pick the candidates who run to replace Chaffetz. The poll result supported SB 54, a 2014 compromise law stemming from the Count My Vote initiative which allows candidates to bypass the delegate system and instead use voter signatures to earn a place in a primary election.

The state GOP’s ongoing court battle against SB 54 will be the elephant in the room as party leaders are elected at the convention. Evans, the current GOP chairman, will face two opponents in his bid for a third term at the top: Davis County GOP Chair Rob Anderson, who has said he wants to end the legal wrangling over SB 54; and State GOP Vice-Chairman Phill Wright, who refuses to give up against a law that he says tips the scales in favor of wealthy candidates.

Also up for debate at the convention will be the Resolution to Support the Use of Medical Cannabis “as treatment for a diagnosed condition when properly directed by a physician.” Despite the legislature’s failure to pass bills that would have legalized the use of medical cannabis in 2015 and 2016, the GOP resolution mentions recent polls showing that “two-thirds or more of Utah voters would support legalizing medical cannabis as directed by licensed doctors.” The resolution cites Utah’s high death rate from opiate overdose – 7th in the nation – as a reason to legalize cannabis as an alternative medication for chronic pain.

No matter what issues turn up on the agenda, state party organizing conventions offer citizens an inside look at the dynamic process of self-governance, as some would put it – or a chance to see how the sausage is made, as others would say. Either way, why not check them out?  

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