Thursday, November 8, 2007

Who won, and who lost?

Only blind ideologues assert "mandates" and clear "messages from the 'lectorate" when elections yield victories of 50 percent plus a fraction. But in the case of Referendum 1, in which voters acted almost two-to-one to defeat it, it is almost understatement to say, well, that there are winners and there are losers.

And it seems fairly obvious how the major players and themes shake out.

WINNER: First in the column has to be Utah parents and children. Sixty-two percent of voters leave little room to be wishy-washy about this. They supported their public school system. They rejected the very idea of vouchers. This wasn't a vote about nuances, this was flat-out rejection of policies that take public money away from public needs. Bombarded with messages telling them that they needed more choices, parents -- represented and informed throughout the campaign by an active, engaged Utah PTA -- voted their response: They have sufficient choices; what they want is sufficient investment in their public schools. (Thanks for the reminder, Cheryl.)

WINNER: Utahns for Public Schools. I've never heard of a coalition like it before, and I wonder if it surprised itself with its effectiveness. If so, once the surprise wears off, it can claim some healthy momentum moving into next year's legislative session. And its spokespeople and debaters, from Lisa Johnson to Pat Rusk to Vik Arnold to Patrick Shea (who stayed cool as a cucumber, and personable, when dismantling Patrick Byrne's claims last Friday night) and others, always were well-equipped with facts and common sense arguments that stuck with viewers and listeners. When believability is key, it helps not to appear or sound salesman-y, or self-absorbed, or arrogant, or condescending or just plain mean. But I'll get to those guys in a bit.

WINNER: The Utah Education Association. Like it or not -- or, admit it or not -- Utah's teachers were right on this issue from its beginning, and Utah voters agreed with them. If this principle is unclear, I would invite readers to analyze the data here ( You'll notice that Referendum 1 was defeated in every single county. (That includes Utah County and Washington County.) Teachers made Utah history with their petition drives, and their partnership with Utah voters made some American history on Tuesday night. In addition, UEA tapped a nationwide network of teachers who gave small donations individually or through their own associations to match the unknown funding coming from Mr. Byrne and ACM's partners.

WINNER: Kim Burningham. He's a state board chairman with class, and his work this year just burnishes that fact. Remember that he stood up to the Attorney General's office last spring and took a beating for it, from a lot of different quarters. He was right to do it; he knew that well before 62 percent of Utahns proved it.

WINNER: Jeanetta Williams, leader of the Salt Lake NAACP, who doggedly demanded accountability from Mr. Byrne for his ill-advised thoughts on "burning" high school dropouts, and who weathered his equally ill-advised attacks on her and the NAACP.

WINNER: Luz Robles from La Raza, who spoke up when PCE and others used Hispanics in Utah as props for their voucher plan.

WINNER: Utahns. If you have astroturf legislation and diseased ideology looking for someplace to inject and infect, Utahns have a clear message for you: Not here.

WINNER: Utah's economy. I would say that an infusion of $8.4 million didn't hurt, except that Parents for Choice in Education spent a good bit of its cash in Arizona and New Mexico. Whatever the total economic impact, it contributed to Utah's treasury, which is good: I understand there are 150,000 more students coming to Utah in the next few years, so the additional revenue will be helpful to Utah's public schools.

WINNER: Lawmakers who stood and spoke out against the voucher plan from the beginning. Kory Holdaway and Sheryl Allen come to mind, but there were many others too. It hurts to be right and lose by a single vote, but it helps to be proven right by 121,393 votes (the present difference between those tallied for and against, with a handful of ballots left to certify). I suspect they all slept soundly on Election Night.

WINNER: Bloggers. Original research that connected the dots between pro-voucher money and motives was published online, and consistently, well before it ever (IF it ever) made it to the general media coverage. Only one journalist regularly scored and reported developments that still haven't seen the light of day in other papers, and that's Paul Rolly. But from Bob Aagard to Mata Hari to Jeremy Manning to Oldenburg, and Brooke Anderson, and Marshall at Wasatch Watcher -- and from the Amicus to the Sidetrack and several places between -- blogs and bloggers dug into this issue and did a real public service. (I'd like to think I contributed, too.)

WINNER: UTPS volunteers. Personal story: Wherever I've been, whoever I've talked with, I've heard the same comments, that UTPS volunteers were organized, organized, organized, with phone calls and neighborhood visits, from start to finish. They were hard to miss, to anyone who was watching. Not to minimize Election Day's importance, but those months of organized house-to-house work made Election Day just a matter of voter turnout.

WINNER: Finally, Utah's rural families. I want to recognize their place separately because voucher supporters never took seriously the questions from rural families about access to private schools, and the so-called benefits of vouchers to them and their children. Our rural families are part of us, too. Now, with vouchers off the agenda, lawmakers will have to address school funding directly. And the more attention given to needs in public schools, the more rural families will benefit in next year's budget.

Now, the other side of Election Night.

LOSER: Patrick Byrne. He lost the $3 million he spent -- likely to grow to $4 million in the final tally -- to prop up diseased legislation that was imported from Michigan's All Children Matter. He worsened his already-poisonous reputation by making awful statements about high school dropouts (they should be "burned"), about Utah voters (they "failed the state IQ test," he said), about Utah parents (they "don't care enough about their children," he said) and about the people debating him (he called them "bigots"). Showing contempt for his fellow Utahns on live television on Election Night illustrated why people say what they say about him. His performance didn't do any favors for the Milton Friedman Foundation, where he still sits on the board.

LOSER: Parents for Choice in Education, and its national mentor and sponsor, All Children Matter of Michigan. ACM was exposed as the godfather of the voucher plan, and its network of ideologues and propagandists were found to be its midwives. As for PCE, the organization existed for only one reason. Now that the reason has been roundly dismissed by Utah voters, what is its purpose? And if it has no purpose, will it continue to exist? And if it continues to exist, doesn't that disprove Milton Friedman's vaunted theories about the free market? And speaking of Friedman and his free market...

LOSER: Paul Mero and his Sutherland Institute. After his missteps this year, it's good that Mr. Mero doesn't trust the free market for his own employment. So long as the Kool-aid drinking folks in those unidentified foundations continue to send his institute its stipends, he's protected, regardless of his performance or his judgment -- or his slick, revisionist history-writing.

LOSER: Religion-baiting. We still don't know who aired those "Book of Mormon" radio ads supporting the referendum, but Mr. Mero's Sutherland Institute pro-voucher rewrite of Utah history was poor taste, plain and simple.

LOSER: Richard Eyre. He leveraged his salesmanship and his folksy parenting "schtick" in those silly Oreo cookie commercials. In 30-second bits, it was cute -- the first hundred times. But it was in the debates where we got to see a real condescending streak and some disturbing snake-oil salesmanship. I don't doubt that he's "for the parents." It's "parents" that have provided him and his family a healthy income for a generation. But I still wonder whether ambition to expand his "Joy Schools" gave him an extra reason to support the voucher plan.

LOSER: Richard Piatt. KSL's "truth" judge made errors in his report on voucher commercials; Kim Burningham and others spelled them out in detail. His errors lent his "truth test" report to exploitation by PCE. But rather than retract his report, correct his errors before Election Day and move on, he tried to save face and instead layered band-aids on the original report. Hindsight is 20/20, but this isn't just Monday-morning quarterbacking; there was enough time and opportunity to correct those errors while it counted. It doesn't anymore.

LOSER: Rick Koerber. Exposed as a moneyed minor-leaguer buying his way into the major leagues of his ideologue idols, Mr. Koerber's pronouncements only resonated with acolytes in his "Free Capitalist Project" and no one else.

LOSER: Jeff Isbell of Illinois. Mr. Isbell foolishly accepted the fool's errand offered by PCE; he foolishly reported it online; then foolishly challenged the Utah blog community. Sadly, he probably didn't learn any of the experience's obvious lessons, and he may well be on his way back to Illinois already. I wonder how he spent Election Day.

LOSER: The Provo Daily Herald. According to election results, a clear majority of the Herald's readers opposed Referendum 1, after so many barrels of ink had been used to convince them to vote otherwise.

LOSER: Unscrupulous lawmakers. Ones who orchestrated a legislative double-play to ward off the referendum challenge last spring. Ones who extorted the business-lobbyist corps to organize support for the voucher plan. Ones who threatened to hold next year's health care legislation hostage if others didn't kowtow to vouchers. And ones who made ominous calls to the University of Utah's Center for Public Policy and Administration, presumably to delay release of its objective analysis of the referendum.

LOSER: Legal intimidation. Remember that PCE's lawyers sent threatening letters to superintendents and principals, presumably to "chill" conversation and communication about the voucher referendum on school campuses? And remember that the Lieutenant Governor summoned PTA leaders to his office to talk about their communications in Utah communities?

LOSER: Mark Towner. Hacking the UTPS email system and sending pro-voucher spam to voucher opponents? Then lying about it? Then defending the tactic when caught and exposed? Towner's Spyglass may be well-read but its lens is fogged.

LOSER: Finally, Governor Jon Huntsman. By playing both sides of the fence, then playing dumb when PCE aired his hand-tailored press conference remarks, the governor has lost credibility with both sides of the voucher debate AND with Utah voters. After all, according to his own declaration, he voted with the losing side of this issue. The real winners in the Huntsman family this week are his children, who attend fine public schools.


Jeremy said...

Ref 1,

Nice summary and thanks for the mention!

Your blog has been my favorite on this issue throughout the debate. Your investigative efforts and analysis on this site have been a useful reference for me as I've blogged on vouchers over the past year.

Thank you...and major props!

Referendum One said...

Likewise, Jeremy. Thanks.

andbrooke said...

Well done all, but ESPECIALLY to you, Referendum One.

Your writing was timely, intelligent, and well-researched. You have been an invaluable resource during this debate. Like Jeremy said, you're my favorite.

(And thanks for including me!)

UtahTeacher said...

Your blog inspired me to get started. I am in awe of the time spent and research posted. Thank you for a calm, convincing voice. This is exactly what the other side ignores as they comfort themselves that "they just didn't understand the bill."

UtahTeacher said...

Great analysis as normal! I found all of these blogs as I started seriously researching the bill, and yours was the most focused with great research and analysis. I'm referring interested people to your posts on PCE donations for info. Thank you.

rmwarnick said...

Thanks for a great job of exposing the plan to make Utah a laboratory for a national right-wing school privatization experiment-- at our own expense. The people behind private school vouchers ought to be ashamed of themselves for trying to end-run the democratic process. The folks who worked so hard to get this referendum on the ballot are heroes.

Rob said...

Great job! I hope you continue to write.

Provo Reader said...

Your blog has been one of my best resources of information. Please don't disappear. This attempt to turn the election of State School board members into a partisan race has me cringing. Is it retribution? The pro-voucher claims that the UEA wanted a power-monopoly where education is concerned seems to be only a mirror image of what is really going on. Please help take these up-coming issues apart for us!

Tyler said...

Awesome work! Like others have stated, I'm amazed at the amount of time you took to research and answer the hard questions. You're an inspiration to bloggers and you've really inspired us how to step up our own efforts.

Now step out from behind the curtain and take a bow! Or at least give us a link to your next crusade. You've earned a few fans!