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Friday, April 20, 2012
One State Republican Delegate's Preconvention Report

My last post was long enough to reach the ground -- an old writing teacher's standard of length. But the ground was a long, long way down, even if the post was still a bit shorter than FreedomWorks' 44-page anti-Hatch document. This post is relatively brief, a summary of my thoughts and intentions on the eve of tomorrow's state Republican convention.

Tomorrow's the Utah State Republican Convention in Sandy, Utah. I'll be there early, and if a handful of delegates' paranoia bears fruit, I'll be lucky to be home before Monday, because we'll have had to use paper ballots for everything. I'm hoping to use the electronic system they've prepared and get home in time for dinner on Saturday.

If all goes well in a technical sense, I'll tweet some updates during the convention, as before. You can check the Twitter feed at the main blog page here, or follow me (@LocalCommentary) on Twitter, if you want my idiosyncratic take on the convention.

General Thoughts

I've received hundreds of e-mails and flyers from candidates and interested third parties. I've answered dozens and dozens of phone calls. If there was a person on the other end, we talked. If there was a machine, I nearly always terminated the call without listening. Life is too short, and robocalls are too cheap and easy, when purchased by candidates in bulk. I've chatted with numerous delegates by e-mail or on Facebook. I've argued with a few.

With the exception of a few delegates who are convinced that my views make me evil, stupid, or treasonous, I've enjoyed meeting and talking with other delegates at various events and in some chance meetings elsewhere. I've been interested to hear their views, and I've tried to share my own without being too dogmatic. Differences of opinion, managed with civility by mature adults, are a very healthy thing in our politics. I'll jot down some musings later on the convention system itself, but for now I'll just observe that nearly all the delegates I have encountered have been serious, conscientious, and gracious even with candidates they don't like. I've heard lots of delegates ask lots of questions of candidates, and they've nearly all been smart, respectful, meaningful questions.

I've attended a variety of debates and other candidate events in person, across two counties, and I've tuned into some others virtually. In a few cases, I've eaten a candidate's food -- a donut and some juice here, some pizza there -- and I have to say, two thumbs way up on Famous Dave's for barbecue. But I wasn't in it for the food (which I sometimes bought myself). I was in it to learn about candidates more deeply than one can by listening to sound bites and one-minute debate responses.

I hope the precincts who elected the fine delegates I've met appreciate the time and effort they've invested in doing their job well. I've been impressed and proud.

Now, some thoughts on the races in which I get to vote tomorrow.

US Senate

Senator Hatch is my first choice. Dan Liljenquist is my second choice -- but I'm unlikely to see a ballot that doesn't have both of these two on it. The two likely outcomes are Hatch avoiding a primary by getting 60% of the delegate vote, or a primary between Hatch and Liljenquist. I've spent a long time listening to both of these candidates. Both do a lot better when they can explore and explain, instead of trying to fit serious thoughts into sound bites. Liljenquist's acumen in the areas of taxation and finance is impressive, but, for many reasons I've articulated here at the blog, I'm not willing to trade a top-tier conservative US Senator for a top-tier state legislator.

I spent about an hour and a half listening to Liljenquist at one event. I came away more impressed than I had been by his performance in two debates I attended, which wasn't bad in either case. I understand why some who reject Hatch are quite enthusiastic about Liljenquist, and I can see myself supporting him enthusiastically in some future race.

I spent two hours listening to and talking with Orrin Hatch. I came away convinced that he's still the sharp, decent conservative I knew when I worked at the Senate 25 years ago. My open support for him has led some to accuse me of various evils, ranging from ignorance to grave sin or even treason, but I can take it. When I find a good, wise, honest man in -- or running for -- public office, I can endure some slings and arrows as the price for supporting him.

Most of the other candidates are minor or fringe candidates and will (deservedly) be eliminated in the initial ballots. Chris Herrod is the best of the rest by far -- I fear that's not saying much, and it's less praise than he deserves -- but he will likely finish a distant third.


Governor Herbert's major challengers are decent conservatives, articulate, and skilled at pushing all the right conservative buttons. His minor challengers are probably better, on the average, than Orrin Hatch's minor challengers. But I'm not just looking for a reliable conservative. I'm looking for a capable executive for an entire state government. I'm also looking -- if you'll pardon my heresy -- for someone I think can serve well as the governor of all the people of Utah, not just the conservative Republican base. None of the challengers has impressed me in the last two respects, even if I was a strong supporter of Morgan Philpot for Congress two years ago.

I've talked to people who've worked with the governor's office and other parts of his administration, including some in my own precinct, who speak quite favorably of the experience. I was particularly delighted that he vetoed that absurd sex education bill a few weeks ago, which would have prohibited public schools from teaching about contraception. This shows a laudable inclination to stand up to the overzealous right wing of his own party.

I think that Common Core, the federal curriculum standard so hated by some, is just a symptom, not the disease. Federal control of our schools is a fact, much to be deplored, but the Common Core and federal control generally will not be defeated by voting against Governor Herbert. Besides, we have bigger problems in education. Funding Utah schools in the face of daunting demographics is a larger challenge, as is the fact that the system stubbornly and powerfully resists real change and accountability. Solve these problems, and Common Core will take care of itself -- if it hasn't already been rightly judged to be illegal by then under three existing federal statutes.

I was amused the other day to hear Herbert's challengers talk about several things they think the state needs to start doing, and then to hear Herbert describe how the state is already doing those things. Incumbents tend to have a great advantage in knowledge of many day-to-day details, but I've seen some candidates overcome this by very hard work. None of Herbert's challengers appears to have done so.

I'll be voting for Governor Herbert.

US House of Representatives, Third District

Congressman Chaffetz is a rock star, but I think he's more of a show horse than a workhorse. I'm not convinced that any of his challengers is better. If I am so convinced by tomorrow, I'll vote for someone else. But my vote won't change anything. Chaffetz will win. At least he's a fairly reliable conservative vote.

Utah Attorney General

We're hiring a managing attorney for the state of Utah -- at least that's what I prefer to a lobbyist and political climber, in the office of Attorney General. I'm looking for legal skills and experience, some convincing experience managing a large legal team, and good character, to the extent that I have the necessary information to pass judgment on character.

I've talked to a variety of people who know at least one of the candidates and who are somewhat familiar with the Attorney General's office. I've considered my past experience with and impressions of John Swallow. And I spent an hour and a half with Sean Reyes this week. I was much more impressed with Reyes than I expected to be. He cleared my rather low bar -- a decent alternative to John Swallow -- by about six feet.

I don't have a sense of how this race will go, but I do have an excellent candidate in Reyes.

Utah State Auditor

I'll be voting for John Dougall. I know him, like him, and trust him. It's less a policy thing than a personal thing, but I don't apologize for that.

National Delegates, Presidential Electors, Etc.

There are a few dozen more offices to fill. I won't belabor them, except for two notes.

The identity and thinking of delegates to the Republican National Convention matters mostly in the sense that they're free to vote as they wish after the first ballot, if that ballot does not produce a nominee. That's unlikely to happen, but I will vote for delegates who say they support Mitt Romney.

National committee members have more influence on the national party platform, I believe, so I'll do my best to avoid hard right wingers. Why . . . is a longer discussion.

Denouement (loosely defined)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to figure out how soon to arrive at the convention in the morning. There are several variables.

Thanks for reading, and good night.

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