I’ve struggled with my party affiliation since moving to Utah. I haven’t struggled with my political beliefs, ideals or convictions. Those are all pretty well firmed up. The struggle I refer to is how to be significant in what is really a one party state. My struggle is to actually matter…to somehow affect the politics here. I struggle to be relevant.
And let’s face it. In most cases, Democrats in Utah are irrelevant. Outside the stronghold of Salt Lake City (and to some extent Salt Lake County), liberals, moderates and progressives matter little. This state is overwhelmingly red, and even our one member of Congress with a “D” after his name is really just a lower-case “r” when push comes to shove. Both of our Senators are Republican. Two of our three Congressmen are Republican. Our Governor is Republican. More than 80% of our state elected officials are Republican. Close to 90% of our locally elected officials are Republican. So, why am I a registered Republican? The answer is a simple one: Utah‘s caucus system. Ok, maybe that’s not so simple.
Utah does not have a direct primary system. Instead, delegates for each party are elected in neighborhood caucuses. These caucus elections are usually held at inconvenient times and are generally not well publicized, so they tend to draw the fringe crowds. You know, the really…um…passionate people. The elected delegates then attend the state’s party conventions to decide which candidates will be on the primary ballots. If a candidate can’t woo enough delegates, that candidate will not appear on the primary ballot. So, a very small minority of often fringe party members get to decide who the general populace will have to choose from in the primary election.
The delegates (less than a couple thousand) have that much control over who everyone else chooses from when it’s time to hit the polls. During the last election cycle this had significant consequences. Bob Bennett, a three term U.S. Senator running for re-election, didn’t make it out of state convention. A three term Senator didn’t garner enough votes among the delegates to even appear on the primary ballot for his party. Clearly he wasn’t popular, right? Wrong. In multiple state-wide polls, Bennett earned a favorable rating with more than 80% of registered voters. Bennett fell victim to the Tea Party swell in Utah and lost his seat for being “too liberal” (I encourage anyone to check out his voting record and say with a straight face this guy was not conservative). As a result, primary voters had a choice between two ultra-conservative candidates. And as usual, the one with more money won. We ended up with Mike Lee, a Tea Party favorite, as our newly elected Senator. Yes, the same Mike Lee who is voting to block every single one of President Obama‘s judicial nominees based on “principle.”
So, why am I registered as a Republican? Simply put, I want to try to ensure the lesser of two evils is on the general election ballot. The fact is, the candidate with the “R” after his name (yes, “his” name…this is Utah after all) is the one who is going to win. And since Utah has a closed primary, I figure I can head to the polls as a “R” and pick the more moderate (less crazy) choice to head into the general election. Does it work? Well, clearly not in Lee’s case. But at least I feel like I’m doing something to effect a better outcome. Or a less worse one, anyway.
Call me a sell-out. Or a RINO*. Or a fake. I don’t really give a shit. In some small way it helps me feel a little less irrelevant.
Photo by HunnerWoof
*RINO = Republican in Name Only