LOGAN – The race to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop is rapidly evolving into a contest between the Have’s and the Have Not’s.
The Have’s are Republican candidates who have already qualified for the June 30 primary ballot and don’t have to worry about all the uncertainties associated with the GOP state convention on April 25.
The Have-Not’s have plenty to worry about and aren’t happy about it.
The only candidates now in the Have’s category are Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson and Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt. Both candidates qualified for the primary ballot by collecting the signatures of 7,000 registered voters.
Stevenson had already reached the signature threshold prior to the Coronavirus outbreak in mid-March. The Witt campaign completed its signature drive more recently, despite the complications arising from Utah’s statewide social distancing guidelines.
Firmly in the column of Have Not candidates is former Utah Agriculture Commissioner Kerry Gibson of Ogden, who has nothing good to say about the state law that created the signature-gathering loophole.
“I believe firmly in the caucus-convention system that has always produced our political candidates,” Gibson said during an online town hall meeting on April 9. “That’s the route I took to become a Utah lawmaker and a Davis County commissioner. So, when Senate Bill 54 was introduced in the Legislature, I knew it was going to be a nightmare and hurtful to our republic.”
That law, enacted in 2014, changed the statutes governing Utah election laws to allow candidates to sidestep the risk of failing to be nominated by their party’s convention by gathering signatures from registered voters.
Gibson said the law was pushed through the Legislature by lobbyists who saw professional signature gathering as another way to profit from political campaigns.
“I don’t have a problem with signature gathering if it’s done by volunteers like any traditional petition drive,” Gibson added. “But when a candidate can pay professional consultants $100,000 to gather a certain number of signatures for them, that’s not right.”
Paid professional signature gathering gives big-money candidates and their high-profile donors too great an advantage in politics, Gibson emphasized.
Gibson said that his campaign had originally been collecting signatures as a way to counter that advantage, but discontinued that effort in mid-March when Utah’s social distancing guidelines were announced.
“I’m now placing the future of my candidacy in the hands of the delegates to the GOP state convention on April 25 and I’m comfortable with that,” Gibson added.
In late March, Gov. Gary Herbert attempted to throw a lifeline to political candidates stymied by the Coronavirus precautions by issuing an executive order allowing them to gather voter signatures online. While applauding Herbert’s good intention, candidate Tina Cannon of Mountain Green said that lifeline is more like a noose.
“We were originally gathering signatures, but stopped when the social distancing guidelines were announced,” Cannon explained. “We tried to resume that effort when Gov. Herbert issued his executive order.
“But just think about what’s involved in trying to gather signatures online. The voter has to send you his or her name, signature and date of birth electronically. That’s no problem for our younger generation. But older people usually have to download the form, print it, sign it and then FAX it back. That’s not only complicated, it’s also risky since we’re always telling people that they have to safeguard that kind of information from identity theft.”
When little significant progress was made toward their goal of collecting 7,000 signatures, the Cannon campaign refocused its efforts on winning a ballot slot at the state convention on April 25.
That’s a risky strategy for Have Not candidates, she admitted, given that the state convention is going to be conducted remotely with delegates using new online technology.
“But I have a lot of faith in state GOP officials,” Cannon emphasized. “I’ve known them a long time and they’re good people who are trying to make our political system work in unfortunate circumstances. I have confidence that they’re doing their best.
“But it’s an unusual circumstance, to say the least. We’re also counting on 1,000 state delegates to do what they’re supposed to do. Even under these circumstances, our political system can work if everyone turns out to be the kind of people that we all hope they are.”