Why Utah’s Democrats Will Reject Direct Primary Elections

Senator Jim Dabakis (Photo from Associated Press)

Senator Jim Dabakis
(Photo from Associated Press)

This Saturday, delegates to the Utah Democratic convention will vote on whether they will keep the caucus system or go to a direct primary. There’s one very big reason why they won’t pick the primary option.

A direct primary could knock Party Chair Jim Dabakis out of the Legislature. Dabakis won his seat in the Utah Senate through a special election where delegates selected him over political heavy-hitters like Peter Corroon and Jenny Wilson, among others.

If the nomination were left up to voters in Senate District 2, there’s a very good chance Dabakis loses to more well-known (and well-liked) candidates like Corroon or Wilson.

How would it look for the party if their leader is bounced by primary voters?

For Democrats, seats in the Legislature are rare and hard to come by. SD2 is one of those seats that is safely in the blue column year after year after year. A direct primary would open up the floodgates with candidates.

Dabakis has cleverly set up a vote on Saturday among delegates that almost ensures the Democrats will keep the caucus system. They have only two choices. Keep the caucuses or go to a direct primary. No other options are available. No raising the threshold for winning the nomination. Dabakis is betting delegates will stay with the devil they know instead of opting for the devil they don’t.

Additionally, Dabakis is acutely aware his political fate is now held by the delegates in SD2. Why do you think he sponsored a resolution during the 2013 session proposing to expand protections of public lands in the state? That was a total nod to those delegates who are very environmentally aware.

Really, every elected official is aware of the outsized influence delegates hold over their destiny. I had one prominent Republican lawmaker tell me they were considering endorsing Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams during the 2012 campaign, but decided not to because it might enrage delegates.

A direct primary could make Senate District 2 one of the most competitive in the Legislature. There’s a lot of political talent just sitting idle in that area.

A direct primary instead of a caucus would likely entice some of these politicians to dust off their running shoes and set their sights on Capitol Hill.

Dabakis knows this.

That’s why he will do everything in his power to defeat the proposed change on Saturday.