Two thousand ten is an even numbered year, which means that it’s once again election time. But various municipal offices, seats in the State Legislature and the state’s governorship aren’t the only things up for grabs in this midterm year. In neighborhoods and districts all across the state, Utahns from both major political parties will be competing for another kind of office, that of precinct delegates.
Utah is one of only three states with a delegate system, which gives people involved in each party who hold such offices the final say on which candidates make it to election day. And given that many of the candidates who do make it in are apathetic or actively hostile towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns and their concerns, getting fair-minded delegates into office is the first and perhaps the most important part of making the Legislature itself more fair-minded.
This year, Equality Utah, the Utah Stonewall Democrats and Utah Log Cabin Republicans will all be working hard to ensure that more gay-friendly delegates come onboard in each of Utah’s major political parties.
Every two years, delegates are elected from precincts, areas sometimes no bigger than a few streets in each legislative district. These delegates are the ones who meet at each political party’s state convention (typically held in mid-May of an election year) and vote on which candidates will represent their district in November’s elections. In other words, if a gay-positive candidate has a large percentage of gay-positive delegates who want to see him or her square off against the opposite party, he or she is more likely to win the opportunity to do so—or, at least enough to force a primary election between two party hopefuls.
To illustrate exactly how delegates are important, Keri Jones, Manager of Programs and Administration for statewide gay and transgender rights group Equality Utah, mentioned how Republican delegates in West Jordan returned a notoriously anti-gay Senator to the Legislature in 2008. Facing criticisms and calls to resign both for his anti-gay remarks and for saying of a bill he did not like “the baby is black, I tell you, it is a dark ugly thing,” Sen. Chris Buttars nonetheless ran and retained his Senate seat two years ago — all because of one delegate’s vote.
“It’s telling how important [the delegate process] really is,” she said. “The biggest change is made at the delegate level.”
Mel Nimer, president of Utah Log Cabin Republicans, agreed.
“If we’d had 10 [pro-gay] people there, we wouldn’t be putting up with this nonsense,” he said.
Those who are interested in becoming a delegate for any party need to find out when and where their precinct meetings will be held, said Nikki Boyer, chair of Utah Stonewall Democrats. When the time for the meeting comes, Boyer said that delegate hopefuls should bring neighbors and friends from their precinct to vouch for their candidacy — otherwise, she added, a delegate hopeful runs the risk of being voted out by candidates who bring more support. At these meetings, she added, precincts with larger populations who have more delegate spots (three or four versus the regular one or two) can also elect such positions as delegate chair and vice chair, or even secretary.
“[A delegate hopeful could] go to a precinct meeting and there might be 60 or 70 people there and they [the hopeful] have never done this, that’s why they need to bring their neighbors and friends to vote for them,” Nimer concurred.
Additionally, Jones stressed that becoming a delegate is “the best way to remain involved in whatever party you’re with.” Throughout the year, for example, she said that delegates can attend neighborhood meetings and weigh in on issues that are important to their precincts.
Currently, Boyer said that the Utah Stonewall Democrats are the state’s largest Democratic caucus, and interest in the party is growing in all corners of the state. In order to meet this interest, she and other Stonewall Democrats will be visiting such cities as Logan, Ogden, St. George, Cedar City and Moab in the weeks leading up to delegate elections to recruit and train fair-minded individuals.
“We’ve had really good success in Southern Utah before,” she said, noting that this part of the state has its own Stonewall caucus. “A lot of people showed up and showed interest.”
“We don’t have much to do in [heavily Democratic] Salt Lake City, but in other parts of the state there’s a lot of work to be done,” she added.
Nimer noted that there is also a lot of work to be done in getting gay-friendly Republican delegates elected all across the state, but particularly in Republican-heavy areas such as Sandy, Draper and Utah County.
“For me to be a [Salt Lake County] delegate would be of little use because anyone I might vote for on the Republican side will probably lose,” he explained.
Nimer said that his caucus is hoping to recruit as many fair-minded precinct delegates as possible to attend the state convention “so we can pick the person who will best represent the Republican Party and also to show we have strength and power” as an electoral force.
To accomplish this, Nimer is encouraging gay-friendly people of all political views to register as Republicans and run for office at their precinct meetings (under Utah law, one must be a registered party member to run for delegate office). He stressed that registering for any political party does not need to have any bearing on one’s personal political views, or how one votes in November.
“How you vote in November at the private ballot box has nothing to do with the party you’re registered with,” he said. “That’s a personal matter.”
If LCR can get enough sympathetic delegates elected, Nimer predicted a sea change in how Utah does politics.
“If Buttars would know he’s got 40 different delegate who are GLBT that he has to convince [to vote for him], he’d start thinking twice bout what he says and does,” he said.
Equality Utah will be conducting its usual delegate training workshops in February and March including workshops in St. George, Price County and Salt Lake City, the latter of which is tentatively scheduled for March 20, with a location to be determined. Both the Stonewall Democrats and Log Cabin Republicans will be invited to join, said Jones.
“We could use allies in both [parties],” she said.
Nimer also said that he and vice president James Humphreys will set up house meetings and travel anywhere in the state to explain the delegate process. For more information or to schedule a meeting call 801-613-8359 or email [email protected]