Thursday, October 18, 2007

What did (and didn't) Gov. Huntsman say?

A few important things happened yesterday, as I see it. One is that Governor Jon Huntsman both honored his party's platform and stood up to his party leadership in making careful remarks about Referendum 1. Another is that he preserved the statesmanship that earned him praise from the coalition organized against Referendum 1, who published the full-page ad in yesterday's Trib. (I want to talk about that ad, too.)

I think that the big news from yesterday's press conference isn't what Governor Huntsman said or didn't say, but that his speaking about it at all raises the issue to a new level in the minds of Utah voters. There are still a lot of undecided voters, and the fact that the governor has come to the podium now makes it an issue to consider. And after listening carefully to what he said, I think it's those undecided voters that he was talking to.

Now, let's turn to what he said, and how the major papers and tv have covered it.

We can imagine what the party wanted the governor to say: Repeat the talking points, say you'll vote for the voucher referendum, and urge all Utah voters to do the same. And say it loud.

And we can imagine that he's been under a lot of pressure from pro-voucher party leaders and the pro-voucher contributors who supported his first campaign for governor. Patrick Byrne alone gave his campaign $75,000 in 2004, and that's only what's in the public record. As Parents for Choice in Education and its sponsors have proven this year, here's no telling how much money may have flowed into the governor's campaign treasury from secret donors through all sorts of corporations and non-profit organizations. Campaign checks come with pressure, and we can imagine there was plenty of it. In today's Trib, Glen Warchol wrote here ( that Governor Huntsman was "surrounded by voucher enthusiasts." I think that may be code for "muscle."

All of these things makes what he did and said really interesting.

Speaking as a Utah Republican, honoring his party and its leadership, and satisfying those who contributed to his campaign in 2004, he repeated the party leadership's message on Referendum 1. Their message says, without offering any common-sense support to prove it, that vouchers will help public schools, that vouchers will be just one "piece of equipment in the arsenal," and that vouchers will help Utah's "long-term competitiveness." So Governor Huntsman said all of those things, and he said he would vote for the referendum.

Speaking as Utah governor and a Utah parent, however, he stepped off the party leadership's message and urged voters to research the issue for themselves before voting. Rather than urging Utahns to support it, he said, "Whatever you think is right, whatever you can justify, is the right answer for you." And far from hammering home his support for the voucher plan, Governor Huntsman made it clear "he loved the public schools his own children attend and they would remain there," according to Mr. Walchol's report in the Trib.

Tiffany Erickson and Lisa Riley Roche saw the same thing in the DesNews here (,5143,695219642,00.html), saying Governor Huntsman "urges Utahns to be informed on the issue and vote for what they believe is right." They added,

Huntsman went no further at Wednesday's press conference than he has since the debate over the voucher referendum began.

And they said that he still won't appear in advertising for the referendum -- and won't become a "poster child" for vouchers.

And Brock Vergakis of the Associated Press, in today's Herald here (, wrote that Huntsman not only gave the referendum a soft-sell, but he even played down his influence in winning support for vouchers.

While voucher supporters were optimistic Huntsman's appearance at the Capitol news conference could sway the vote, Huntsman wasn't so sure. "I doubt it," he said.
...Huntsman was still less than forceful. He didn't implore the public to vote in favor of vouchers, rather telling voters to become informed on the issue.

"That's all I ask. We have a very important vote Nov. 6. Become informed and then vote whatever you think is right. Whatever you can stand up and justify is the right answer for you," Huntsman said.
...Huntsman did say why he supports vouchers. He said he considers it part of an overall mix of education options that would gave parents choice.

But he stopped short of saying parents should vote in favor of the program.

Strangely, the party leaders surrounding Governor Huntsman at the press conference heard a completely different message. Senate President John Valentine told the DesNews that the governor was "very clear in his support and his encouragement of people to vote for Referendum 1. ... That to me is more than lukewarm. That's red hot."

Red hot? "Become informed and then vote whatever you think is right" is red-hot support for vouchers? Really? And did the governor really "encourage" people to vote for the referendum? After all, according to the Associated Press account, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss"said she wasn't even sure if Huntsman said he supported vouchers during the news conference, although she was there. Much of Huntsman's speech focused on how the Legislature gave the biggest funding increase in state history to public schools earlier this year."

Nevertheless, it was enough for Rep. Carl Wimmer, who has been openly critical of the governor, to tell Mr. Vergakis, "I could not be prouder to have the governor as the head of the state right now."

So, in one press conference, Governor Huntsman honored his party by repeating its platform on vouchers, but stood up to his party leaders by not delivering the "red-hot" endorsement they clearly wanted, and preserved the statesmanship that earned him praise in a full-page ad in yesterday's Trib.

As for that ad, I hope everyone saw it. It's a catalog of media coverage of what the voucher bill sponsors, and Parents for Choice in Education, and their formal or informal partners have done with their money from All Children Matter of Michigan -- and the donors that they won't identify -- to get voters to support their voucher plan.

You know, when there's such a steady stream of these offenses, with some new terrible tactic being uncovered every week or so, you tend to forget some of them. So this catalog did a good job, I thought, of reminding people of what has happened. As it is, the list is long and awful enough, but it doesn't include everything -- like advertising through Phoenix and Washington, D.C. to bring activists into Utah when no Utahns would take pro-voucher campaign jobs (including blogging, as Bob Aagard reminds us here, and like sending email spam to voucher opponents and lying about it (as Mata Hari reminds us here When this is all finished, I suspect these things are going to make a fine textbook for do's and don't's in a political science class.

I couldn't find a link to the ad online, so I copied over the text so those who didn't see it could read it here. Please forgive the length of the quote:

On behalf of the state’s leading voices for children and public education we commend you for your statesmanship in staying out of the debate on Referendum 1, the private school voucher law. Your steadfast pledge to let the voters decide the issue on November 6th reminds Utahns why we elected a public servant with an unwavering sense of duty. We write to you to ask for your help in ensuring an election that is run with the integrity, honor and transparency that Utah voters deserve. In particular, we call on you to put an end to the secrecy, deception and trickery that has been chronicled by the media.

"Voucher cash spigot still secret"
The Salt Lake Tribune, September 19, 2007
“The Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office is requesting the attorney general investigate who is behind the series of ads urging Utahns to uphold the state’s voucher law, with one of the ads reciting parts of the Book of Mormon to make its point. But the actions of the anonymous group qualify it as a Political Issues Committee subject to finance reporting laws…”

"Pro voucher group may be breaking the law
AG will be asked to investigate why unnamed entity failed to file report"
Deseret Morning News, September 20, 2007
“The Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office says it will ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate an anonymous pro-voucher group that could be skirting election laws.”

"Outsiders fund ‘school choice’ PAC"
The Salt Lake Tribune, June 25, 2006
“Parents for Choice in Education has a grass-roots image and a name ready-made for focus groups. But it turns out most of the cash the advocacy group for privateschool vouchers and tuition tax credits spreads around Utah in elections comes from big-business donors outside the state…”

"Voucher 'threat” sparks debate"
The Deseret Morning News, September 25, 2007
“A high-powered group of Utah businessmen and health experts put forward Monday a plan providing affordable health insurance to an estimated 360,000 Utahns, while GOP legislative leaders are accused of saying that the plan may fail in the 2008 Legislature if leading businessmen don’t support vouchers on November’s ballot.”

"A Sting Operation?"
The Salt Lake Tribune, Wednesday, October 10, 2007
“The mystery has been solved surrounding a phony Web site that lured in people thinking they were getting anti-voucher information only to find pro-voucher propaganda instead.”

"Oops! Vote purchase didn’t pay"
Salt Lake Tribune, October 12, 2007
“…[V]oucher advocates got so desperate Thursday they sent an e-mail from the Free Capitalist Project offering money for pro-voucher votes in next month’s referendum election…But then someone must have let them know it usually is considered illegal to buy votes, so they sent a second e-mail several hours later retracting everything they said in the first e-mail.”

"PCE Worker says cash-for-votes program was the brainchild of PCE, to be funded by PCE"
610, October 13, 2007

"Voucher camp gets desperate"
Salt Lake Tribune, October 11, 2007
“With Election Day looming and most Utah voters still opposed to writing go-to-private-school-free checks, voucher supporters are getting desperate. So in the final weeks of the campaign, they’ve resorted to a three-pronged diversion: bogeymen, dubious research and, when the opportunity presents itself, moral outrage at a fabricated slip from the other side.”

"Pro-voucher poll called ‘despicable’ "
Deseret Morning News, August 18, 2007
“…[S]ome Utahns say the pro-voucher Parents for Choice in Education has gone too far and have digressed from the issue in a push poll conducted this week.”

"Derailing debate: Pro-voucher tactics underhanded, revealing"
Editorial, Salt Lake Tribune, August 18, 2007
“[I]nsinuating in a poll question that your opponents are somehow evil often elicits the desired response. It is an old technique called ‘push polling.’ It influences how the subject answers the question and, at the same time, besmirches the opponent.”

"Voucher war brings in big guns"
Salt Lake Tribune, September 14, 2007
“Now, the pro-voucher cabal has employed veteran legal hit-woman Mary Anne Wood to intimidate the other side…”

We are asking you to help put an end to these reprehensible practices and to call for a clean and fair election on November 6th.

Does remembering these things make you feel like going back home for another shower?

And you know what's worse? Thinking that these same tactics will be used again next year, and the next year, and the next year...