Let’s review the history of the form-of-government debate in Grand County: In 1992, Grand County’s current form of government was approved by popular vote. In 1993, Republicans attempted to recall newly elected, non-partisan council members and failed by losing the popular vote. In 2004 Republicans attempted to revert to the old form of government and lost the popular vote 2,350 to 1,530. In 2012 the Republicans again attempted to change the form of government and again lost the popular vote, 2,198 to 1,634.
And in 2018 the Republican Party does an end-run around Grand County voters.
This end-run is more commonly called House Bill 224. This legislation is poorly written, so lawyers are still arguing about what exactly it means. One likely outcome is that local Republican insiders (Lynn Jackson, Jeramy Day, Jerry McNeely, Gene Ciarus and Manuel Torres) will be in charge of selecting a new form of government for Grand County. If voters reject the Republican proposal, then the county will be forced to switch to a three-person county commission form, which is what the Republicans have been promoting (unpersuasively and unsuccessfully) for the past 25 years. Keeping our current form is not an option. It’s a sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. A determined minority (the local Republican insiders) is close to prevailing after 25 years of failure, not by persuading Grand County voters, but by changing the rules while no one was looking.
This is not an April Fools joke.
How could this have happened with the vast majority of Grand County residents being unaware of it until after the governor signed the bill? I asked a Democratic state legislator and she said the bill went through committee quietly because the Utah Association of Counties did not raise objections.
Why wasn’t UAC looking out for Grand County’s interests? Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells is on UAC’s board of directors, so one would have hoped he would be looking out for Grand County’s interests. But Wells has long been a vocal opponent of Grand County’s current form of government. Despite Wells’ frequent visits to the state legislature, HB 224 became law with few legislators knowing that its provisions are deeply unpopular in Grand County, and few Grand County voters knowing that a new, more partisan form of government was about to be imposed on them without their consent.
What does Wells say in his defense? Basically, he says sounding the alarm on HB 224 was not his job. This excuse will not fly. Consider the following analogy.
Imagine visiting the beach with a group of friends. You and a few others want to splash in the waves. Many in the group want to stay dry. Because you are all from the same county, you all have to do the same thing, all get wet or all stay dry. You have a vote and the dry faction prevails. Later, after much discussion, you have a second vote and the dry proponents are still in the majority. After a while, the question comes up again and the dry vote wins by a significant majority. Then you (who would prefer to be wet) notice a large rogue wave bearing down on the group. No one else is looking — other important issues distract them. If you say nothing, everyone will be drenched, which will displease the majority but is fine by you. Do you warn the group and give them a chance to try to stay dry?
If you are Wells, the answer is, apparently, say nothing — the majority wants to stay dry, but your opinion counts for more than theirs. They should look out for themselves. But if you were like most people, in this or any analogous situation, you would feel a moral obligation to warn others, even if doing so is not in your own narrow self-interest.
How do our local Republican insiders attempt to justify placing themselves in the driver’s seat, despite having consistently lost at the polls for the past 25 years? Essentially, they say that they know better than the voters. This is arrogant and wrong. Republicans argue that non-partisan elections are somehow bad. They seem a bit freaked out that they have less control over who appears on the ballot than do their counterparts in other counties. They want to bring back primaries in which only registered Republicans can vote.
The local Democratic Party, in contrast, welcomes unaffiliated voters (those who have not joined a political party). Our primaries are open to unaffiliated voters, as is our local central committee. We think political parties do not have a monopoly on good ideas. We think independent, unaffiliated candidates should have equal, first-class access to the ballot. We support Grand County’s current system of non-partisan elections.
If Republicans have their way, future ballots will prominently display the party affiliations of County Council candidates. I expect Grand County voters will remember which party caused all of this mess, and vote accordingly.
Kevin Walker is the chairman of the Grand County Democratic Party.
ByBy Kevin Walker