As voters head to the ballot box for primary elections, the Utah County Republican Party is taking measures to promote the candidates chosen by party members at its convention. In the race for Utah House District 6, which takes in most of Lehi, the party has issued a flyer promoting Cory Maloy and discouraging a vote for Mike Brenny.
“You choose the REAL Republican,” the flyer reads. It compares Maloy’s credentials side by side with Brenny’s, including the fact that Brenny was listed as a Democrat in 2010, and registered as a Republican just 13 days before he filed to run as a Republican. The flyer also points out that Brenny has no record of voting in any Primary Election.
Maloy, the flyer says, has been a Republican since he first voted at age 18, consistently votes in GOP Primary Elections, and has been an active local party leader for many years.
Craig Frank, Chairman of the Utah County Republican Party, said of the campaign, “We’re obligated to support the party’s nominee.” Candidates who use a recently-created alternate route to the ballot are allowed by the party to simultaneously go through the convention process, but once the convention vote has been taken, the party supports the candidates chosen by delegates. He said the party made attempts to contact Brenny before the convention, but the candidate didn’t show interest.
Brenny doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s not heavily involved in the party. “I’m a political outsider,” he said, “the guy who hasn’t been a politician.”
He explained that he was politically unaffiliated for the past few years, but decided to register as a Republican because his views now align more closely with the GOP’s. “It wasn’t a dramatic event,” he said of his shift. “Having four girls in today’s society and starting to make a little money made me see things differently.” He said that “Obama was the straw that broke the camel’s back” for him, and he voted for Romney in 2012.
When he talked to the Salt Lake Tribune in May about the party’s campaign to promote convention candidates, he compared the campaign to “Soviet-era party control.” He said he realizes that was a bit too harsh, but feels the caucus system doesn’t give people a choice which they deserve to have. “The caucus system is not in danger,” he said, stating that if he had it to do over again he would go through the caucus system in addition to gathering signatures.
On Friday, Brenny was knocking on doors in his district with former governor Mike Leavitt, an organizer of the Count My Vote initiative, which sought to do away with the caucus system altogether. That effort prompted the state legislature to make changes to the election law in 2014 with the passage of SB 54.
The bill changed requirements for candidates to get their names on primary ballots under a party affiliation. In addition to preserving the traditional caucus-convention route of meeting with individual party members to earn the votes needed to get on the ballot, it allows candidates onto the ballot through signature-gathering.
Proponents of the new law felt the caucus system excluded voters from the process of selecting a party nominee, and there needed to be way to include more people in the selection process.
Opponents were concerned about the precedent set by the law, in which the state of Utah set the terms by which private political organizations must chose their nominees. They were also concerned that a signature route to the ballot would lead to money and name-recognition influencing the campaigns, rather than one-on-one meetings with grassroots party members. Candidates who have gathered signatures are paying around $5,000 to hire signature-gathering companies.
As the first major campaign season to operate under the new law continues to unfold, political watchers will be interested to see how the new dynamics play out.