by Howard Stephenson
Before the November elections it looked like there might be some backlash against Utah Republican legislative candidates. Republicans hold a majority in both houses of the Utah Legislature and it was projected that they could lose seats. The news media seemed bent on it when they reminded voters in the waning days of the campaign that Republicans had been in charge of reapportionment and closed primaries.
The result was a gain of 4 Republican seats in 104-member legislature: two seats in the senate and two in the house. Republicans now hold 22 of 29 senate seats and 56 of 75 house seats.
There is now talk that the super-majority in both houses may lead to less fairness in the legislative process. Those who hold this opinion seem to think the Republican majority is a monolithic group of legislators who all think alike. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is more diversity of political philosophy among Republican legislators than anyone wants to admit. This has been proven time and again during committee meetings and floor debates where Republicans often beat up on each other and kill each other’s bills as much or more than they kill Democrat legislators’ bills. It gets worse when Republicans in one house destroy the prize legislation of a Republican in the opposite house. Democrats are much more unified and are more respectful of fellow Democrat’s proposals.
But in the final analysis, in the Utah legislature the merits of a bill are the best indicators of its chance of passage, not the party affiliation of the sponsor. It’s a pretty healthy process.
Money Talks, Language Walks: Ballot Question Results
There were several tax-related ballot questions decided on November 5. Campaign money or the lack thereof and ballot wording made the difference in the passage or defeat of many of these measures.
The opponents of Initiative 1 — the measure that would have heaped punitive new taxes on Envirocare, a low-level radioactive waste depository in Utah’s West desert — invested about $3 million in educating Utah voters about the realities of this measure. Consequently, it went down by a 2-to-1 margin. Among other things, the opponents pointed out how complicated the measure was to understand.
The ballot wording helped Initiative 1 to go down in flames. The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel drafted the language appearing on the ballot in a manner that created doubts in voters’ minds. The last sentence of the ballot language read: “make other changes?” This caused many voters to wonder if anybody really knew for sure what the measure would do.
Ballot language can make or break an issue. Nobody knows this more than Oregon’s Bill Sizemore who is known as America’s initiative king. He has sponsored dozens of initiatives in Oregon and advised sponsors in other states. Sizemore says he shops for winning ballot language. Under Oregon law, ballot language is drafted by the state election office prior to the collection of signatures. Sizemore then tests the wording through public opinion polling and keeps submitting the petition until he gets ballot language that wins. He knows before collecting signatures whether he has a winner.
Two years ago Utah voters were facing an initiative regarding asset forfeiture and property seizure. Proponents of the initiative did not like the ballot language drafted by the Legislative General Counsel, so they appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, which drafted new language which appeared on the ballot. The measure passed.
Constitutional Amendment 1 was also very complicated but would have saved Utah Taxpayers millions of dollars. It should have passed, but there was no constituency with money to educate the public about measure’s ability to enable government entities in Utah to access the federal treasury by claiming the federal tax depreciation of government buildings and equipment. The ballot language was confusing, so, being in doubt, the voters voted “no.” The measure failed by a 3-to-2 margin.
Having the word “children” in the ballot language is also helpful for passage of ballot measures. Salt Lake County’s bond for moving the Children’s Museum of Utah to The Gateway was supported with plenty of campaign money from the shopping center which would benefit greatly by the museum’s presence. It was a pretty good return on investment to pay $200,000 to promote a $15 million bond, to be paid for by Salt Lake County taxpayers. Like the Envirocare Initiative, it proves that when you have enough money to get your message out, the voters are more likely to respond to your message.
by Howard Stephenson