Utah Democrats vote to keep party caucus system

Jun 22 2013 - 10:30pm

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State Representative Larry Wiley talks with delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Allen Labnecque listens as Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Jay Seegmiller listens as Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Chairman Jim Debakis speaks during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith is introduced by Chairman Jim Debakis during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
 NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
State Representative Larry Wiley talks with delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Allen Labnecque listens as Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Jay Seegmiller listens as Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Chairman Jim Debakis speaks during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith is introduced by Chairman Jim Debakis during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
(NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Bill Davis, a Salt Lake City Council candidate, speaks to delegates during the Democratic Party's 2013 Convention on Saturday in Ogden.
 NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner

OGDEN - Utah Democrats said no Saturday to a plan to dump the party caucus system in favor of a new primary election setup.

Party delegates gathered at the David Eccles Conference Center voted to keep the existing caucus process with 53 percent of the 311 voters opting to keep the existing system, which is 117 years old.

Democrats used an electronic voting system to decide the matter for the first time. Also, on Saturday, delegates elected state party leaders.

Party leaders had panels of three to speak on both sides of the caucus issue and allowed delegates to ask questions about potential changes as part of the one-hour-plus discussion. Questions ranged on how to include more people in the voting process and whether a primary limited people without money from participation.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said she would not have been able to run without the caucus process, while Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County mayor, suggested the current system disenfranchises too many people, particularly minorities. Party leaders suggested that in sticking with the current system, they will continue to look to tweak and improve the setup.

Nick Velis of Ogden supported keeping the current system. He worries money would become too big a factor if they opted to use a primary system to choose candidates.

While Democrats rejected change in their system Saturday, a group of Republicans are seeking to make similar changes to their party's system, which the Utah Republican Party rejected at their convention in May.

Utah is among a handful of states that use a system of local caucus meetings and a nominating convention. Under Utah's system, a candidate can avoid a primary race if they receive 60 percent of the votes from delegates at the conventions. If no candidate reaches the 60 percent threshold, the top two candidates compete in a primary.

The Utah Republican Party dominates state government and is in the midst of an internal debate about overhauling their caucus and convention system.

GOP delegates voted against proposals at their May convention that would have forced more candidates to face primaries. The failed proposals would have required a candidate to earn two-thirds or more of convention votes to avoid a primary election.

Republicans in the group "Count My Vote" are now pursuing other options to change their party's nominating system to bring more Republicans into the process.

According to the most recent Gallup tracking, Utah is the most Republican state in the country.

State Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis, who was re-elected as state chairman, opened his party's convention Saturday with a stump speech emphasizing Democratic values. He said party leaders have a strategy to add 40,000 more registered voters by November 2014. He was frank about the chances of winning elections otherwise.

"There just aren't enough Democrats, but we have come up with a serious plan to change that," Sen. Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said. He said new voters will allow Democrats to compete and to win.

The convention had a decidedly Weber County flavor, which was no accident, according to Ben Pales, chairman of the Weber County Democratic Party. Weber County Attorney Dee Smith led the group in the pledge of allegiance, Steve Olsen of Ogden gave the invocation and Pales addressed delegates at the beginning of the meeting. 

Pales said Democrats are poised to make big gains in Ogden and the county. He referenced Babe Ruth's alleged calling of the shot in the 1932 World Series, and pointed to what he said was left field and said "we'll leave Republicans wondering what the hell happened."

State Treasurer Brian King also took time to emphasize the differences between Smith and Attorney General John Swallow, a Republican who beat Smith in the November 2012 election. Smith is currently the only elected Democrat to hold a county or state office north of Salt Lake City.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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