On Tuesday, the Johnson for Governor campaign announced that it would not seek to gain access to the Republican Party ballot in 2016 through signature gathering. A press release from the campaign made it clear that the candidate, Jonathan Johnson, will focus his energies on securing GOP convention delegates.
Johnson called the current S.B. 54 process a “mess,” and said that there are more effective ways he wants to use his campaign resources. He said that the petition route has not, in fact, gotten more people involved in state politics.
“Incumbents have lobbyists that are in front of them all the time and are donating to them,” he said. “I don’t have that luxury, to go to lobbyists and ask them for money, and I think if you look at the lieutenant governor’s site and see who has filed to collect signatures, I believe all of them are incumbents but one. So, I know this was intended to get more people involved in the process; I think it’s had just the opposite effect.”
Supporters of S.B. 54 have pointed out that party caucuses can be easily taken over by delegates with extreme views. Johnson denied this characterization.
“I have been a state and county delegate several times and I know the press and others often the party delegates as extreme,” he said. “That’s not been my experience and I have by and large found the delegates to be diligent, thoughtful, responsible, and concerned with what’s best for Utah. I have great faith in the caucus convention system. Are there a few people with extreme views? Unquestionably there are but it’s not a larger percentage than there is in the general population in Utah.”
Under S.B. 54, candidates for statewide election need to get 28,000 signatures in order to appear on the ballot. Johnson said that current rules leave Utahns beyond the Wasatch Front out of the election process.
“It still allows for a plurality victory in a primary. That’s a broken part of S.B. 54,” he said. “Somebody running for statewide office can gather all the signatures they need on the Wasatch Front, never leave their home in Salt Lake, run a massive TV campaign, never really talk to Utahns outside their neighborhood, and be elected. All of the counties under the caucus-convention system.”
Candidates have been able to gather signatures since the beginning of the year.