Caucus or Primary? Well, What’s the Goal?

Politically moderate power brokers in Utah did not like the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, the constitutional intransigence it produced, and the first “scalp” it took here in Utah: Senator Bob Bennett’s defeat at the GOP state convention. A three-term sitting Senator was denied, through the caucus/convention system, the opportunity to make his case to voters at large. Two challengers, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, advanced to the primary.

These power brokers are eagerly working on an effort to reverse course by going for the jugular: abolishing the caucus/convention system completely in favor of a direct primary. And of course, there’s an opposition movement.

I’ve been asked by reporters and citizens alike whether Libertas will dive into the trenches in this battle. My answer is no, and this is why: our focus is policy, not politics. We’re interested in the law more than the people who change it and the process by which they acquire their power.

That’s not to say we’re disinterested—clearly, our desired policies won’t be implemented without the right kind of people supporting and defending them. But while we feel the caucus/convention system is better than a direct primary, for various reasons, it is not a guarantee that our goals will be realized.

Put differently, candidates who understand and espouse individual liberty can get elected through either political process. Conversely, anti-liberty candidates can (and do) achieve success both under the caucus/convention system and through a primary. The legislature’s failing grade in last year’s session succinctly demonstrates that point.

But the issue is even more fundamental than that. An electorate who demands respect and protection of their life, liberty, and property will uphold candidates who share their ideals through whatever political process that exists. The problem, then, is the people—not so much the process. That’s why Libertas exists: to educate the masses and create a groundswell of interest in individual liberty. This is the only saving hope of protecting our God-given rights; focusing primarily on a political process is diversionary and potentially destructive to the underlying issue that truly demands our attention.

Of course, a strong argument can be made that the caucus/convention system facilitates this educational process by keeping politics “local” rather than allowing candidates to blanket the state with polished propaganda pieces. Requiring candidates to be scrutinized in detail by delegates allows for more opportunity to demand fidelity to whatever ideology those delegates want to see supported. There is merit to that claim, and it’s one of the reasons why the status quo is preferable to what Count My Vote has proposed.

It’s also important, however, to recognize the cause behind today’s battle—the reason why this is even an issue at all. In Utah, primary elections are paid for by taxpayers, allowing private political parties to narrow down their field of candidates at the public’s expense. This massive subsidy justifies the state in dictating how private organizations should select their nominees. It’s the only reason that Count My Vote is able to dictate the internal affairs of a private entity through the initiative process. Free market supporters must therefore support abolishing this subsidy, which will have the added benefit of allowing political parties to determine their own processes, rather than being subject to the whims and mandates of the masses.

Our goal is to increase liberty in Utah. While we prefer to have the caucus/convention system in place to facilitate that endeavor, it is not a huge setback for our purposes to work through a direct primary. Our focus, and yours, should be on helping people understand and demand protection of their natural rights—using whatever tools happen to be at their disposal to do so.