Political climate change might spell extinction for (not so wealthy) legislators


By Ryan Joyner

Sixty-two dollars in ink, paper, and gas, mixed with a few good ideas and a DI suit coat, was all it cost to get elected in the state House of Representatives three years ago, for former Rep. Fred C. Cox.

Rep. Jon Cox discusses how the caucus system allows people like him to gain entry into politics.
Former Rep. Fred Cox discusses how the caucus system allows people like him to gain entry into politics.

Cox said, “I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it wasn’t for the caucuses.”

However, legislation that started with a deal brokered between the Count My Vote Initiative, Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Cache County, Gov. Robert Herbert and others might end the system that helped people like Cox get elected.

At the time he decided to run, Cox said he had zero to little personal ambition to become a state official. “I showed up because I wanted to see a better person on the ballot.”

Cox soon after found himself on a journey that would make him the representative of West Valley Salt Lake County in former district 32.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bramble’s second substitute SB54, which contains a provision that weakens current caucus system standings, passed both the House and Senate.

The bill provides an alternate signature collection path for people seeking to get on primary ballots for county, state and national elections in Utah. The bill also provides opportunities for unaffiliated voters to participate and, under certain circumstances, would force elections to go to a primary.

Sen. Dabakis said some Republicans, especially those who are wealthy or have a family history of politics, want a way around dealing with delegates, and this bill would give them that.

The system does preserve caucuses if candidates choose to use them as a route to a primary. However candidacy seekers who wish to avoid caucus delegates entirely will have that option.

Many feel caucuses will live in the shadows of a primary route that favors wealthy individuals using, as Cox put it, their “Lexus Lane” or “Roles Royce Road.”

During a press conference Count my Vote initiative leader Rich McKeown said, “Certainly going directly to a primary does (mean) that there may be more resources involved behind that candidate” — resources that candidates like Cox just don’t have.

GOP officials also questioned whether or not individuals like Josh Romney, son of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who, it is rumored, may run against Mike Lee in 2016), influenced the statements Mitt Romney made in support of Count My Vote shortly before the deal creating the second substitute was reached.

Several caucus delegates felt Josh Romney might have had a tough time in the caucuses, considering the Romney family’s track record moderate leaning.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Davis County, said, “I don’t believe Count My Vote was ever about the will of the people. … It was about the will of a few wealthy people.”

The legislation comes at a unique time in national politics.

According to OpenSecrets.org, a website dedicated to following politicians and money, “Members of Congress have been getting slightly richer in recent years, and the trend continues. Overall, more than 48 percent of lawmakers — 257 to be exact, up seven from the previous year — have an estimated net worth of more than $1 million.”

“Someone that’s wearing $28 shoes is not going to win [in a primary],” Cox said, looking at his own shoes.

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