Sunday, June 22, 2008

Give Up Your Rights or Vote on June 24th - You Decide!

When it comes to our rights in America there is nothing like the power of voting to make your voice heard. Sure, we have free speech, the right to bare arms, etc. but the real power is given when WE say who should have the power. When you choose not to vote, to sit by and see how things work out, to let others decide for you by thinking that your one vote won't make the difference - that's when you've given up one of your greatest American rights. The right to vote! Even today there are people dying for the right to determine their own destiny. Our own military sons and daughters are fighting to bring our brand of democracy to others. How can we sit home and not vote?

It's with this thought in mind that I remind everyone that we have the opportunity to vote on Tuesday, June 24th. Depending on where you live there may be different ballot items. Depending on your party affiliation there may be races that you will or will not be able to weigh in on. But whatever the case may be, I urge you to get out and vote. Your vote could make the difference between somebody in power who believes in doing the best thing for education vs. somebody in power who is easily swayed, makes decisions for personal gain, political acceptance or party popularity.

State Treasurer

There are a couple of races that are of particular importance in my mind. One is a race that I've already talked about, but that I'd like to reiterate - that is the Republican primary race for State Treasurer - Richard Ellis vs Mark Walker. Only registered Republicans can weigh in on this race.
If you're registered as "unaffiliated" this might be a reason (at least temporarily) to register Republican so that you can help decide this race. If you're a registered Democrat, you can't vote, but you can send this post to your Republican friends in hopes that they will make an informed decision. When it comes down to it this isn't really a fair race at all, because Richard Ellis is so much better qualified to fill the position! Let's take another quick look at the qualifications and also a few things that disqualify Mark Walker.

Richard Ellis:

  • 22 years of public treasury experience (8 years as Deputy Treasurer)
  • Experience as Governor Walker and Governor Huntsman's Budget Director (3 years)
  • Finance Degree, MBA
  • Endorsement of current State Treasurer of 28 years, Edward T. Alter
Mark Walker:
  • ZERO experience (no on-the-job experience or training. Don't let the Zion's Bank "credentials" fool you, he holds a sales position. Ellis clarifies this further on his blog and shows how little Walker knows about the job based on what Walker has put up on his website and what he has been mailing everyone. You'll have to read it to believe it, it's quite embarrassing for Walker.)
  • ZERO education in the field (no Finance Degree, no MBA - he has a BS in Political Science)
  • Endorsements of politically motivated bureaucrats
I'll try to hold my tongue when it comes to his record as a legislator. He has the worst legislative committee attendance record and hasn't passed a single bill as a legislator. I didn't include that in the list above because I'm trying my best not to make this an attack. Attacks are hardly necessary when the experience alone is so overwhelming in favor of Richard Ellis. I'm baffled by the likes of Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and others in Republican leadership who say that Mark Walker is the man for the job. He'll make a good party puppet, perhaps?

I'd love to see a debate between Walker and Ellis. Rod Decker of KUTV invited both men to his live "Take Two" program on Sunday at 10 a.m. Ellis accepted and Walker said he will be at church. I'm not one to mock a man's religious conviction, but somehow I doubt that's the real reason he doesn't want to be in a debate with Ellis. Walker is relying on the endorsements to pull him through, and the scary thing is that it might just work...if people don't make an informed vote on Tuesday!!

What's at stake if Walker wins the election? A $1 billion Permanent School Fund, $25 billion of taxpayer money held in the Public Treasurer Investment fund on behalf of the state, counties, cities, school districts, etc., and a AAA bond rating that is very difficult to get in the first place.

Jordan School District Boards of Education

Another decision that will be important, especially when it comes to the future of some of our children, is the Jordan School Districts Board races. The Jordan School District split has been controversial in and of itself, but now you need to decide who is going to be in positions of power and who will look out for the best interests of your children. Again, due to predicted low voter turnout this race could be won by just a handful of people, so it's extremely important that you must do your homework and go vote!

Some last minute insight into the Jordan East school board race to consider is in Precinct 3. Sixteen candidates have thrown their hat into the ring! There are many that would do a great job. However, therein lies the problem. With so many qualified candidates it would be easy for the vote to be split and a less competent candidate could come out the winner. I've already mentioned the possibility of "party puppets". What are the chances that Teresa Curtis (Speaker Greg Curtis' wife) becomes one of those if elected? This isn't a primary race. This is it. It's extremely important that you know everything about the person you vote for, especially their intentions and abilities in determining the future of the district split. There is talk about postponing the split through a special session in the legislature. With ongoing talks about dividing up assets between east and west, this will be no position for puppets. You'll need people in place able to make tough decisions based on the best interests of the children, and of the employees, if both districts are to be successful!

Vote, vote, vote! You can see how important it is that you do so! I've highlighted just a couple of GREAT reasons. Feel free to add your own opinion by making a comment. Be quick about it, you only have a day or two before June 24th has come and gone and we'll have to live with the decisions that have been made. For better or for worse. Let's all hope for better!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Omnibus Bill - Bungled and Illegaly Bundled

Senate Bill 2 (second substitute), otherwise known as the Education Omnibus Bill, has received much attention since the filing of a lawsuit by a group of non-partisan, citizen voters. I commend their efforts to heed the Utah Constitution and hold others accountable who don't seem to care about it. It's interesting to me that the same people keep coming up when it comes to dirty politics, vouchers, campaign war chests, leadership positions, etc. (I'll save that for another day.)

As I think about how the Omnibus Bill came to pass I really am perplexed. It seems to me like some people were a little sneaky about getting these bills all put together. Some things happened that didn't need to happen or normally wouldn't have happened. I recently received some information from the retired Chief Clerk of the Utah House of Representatives that illuminated that line of thought. Carole E. Peterson was the first woman ever to be appointed Chief Clerk of the Utah House of Representatives. She received high accolades for her 30 years of service when she retired in 2005. She's an expert when it comes to the rules.

Carole pointed out to me a few rules regarding the passage of bills:

JR4-4-107. Legislation Transmitted to Other House.
(1) The Secretary of the Senate or Chief Clerk of the House shall:
(a) transmit notice of passage on third reading to the other house;
(b) comply with the requirements of Subsection (2) if necessary; and
(c) if sent to the other house, enter the date of transmission in the journal.
(2) The Secretary of the Senate or Chief Clerk of the House shall, before transmitting a piece of legislation to the other house, ensure that, if the legislation passed with amendments or was substituted, the amendments or substitute are:
(a) retyped or reprinted in the typeface and on the color paper designated for each house; and
(b) transmitted with the legislation.
So the question that troubles me and others is why was a bill held after having been passed by both houses, only to be voted upon again in S.B.2? This rule is perfectly clear as noted in (1) above. The key word is "shall". There was no need to re-vote for final passage on H.B 67 and H.B. 270.

I'll spare posting the entire thing, but the important parts that Carole brought to my attention are:
Part 1. Certifying and Enrolling the Legislation

JR4-6-101. Certification and Signature.

(1)(b) When a piece of House legislation has passed both houses, the Chief Clerk of the House shall certify its final passage by identifying:
(i) the date that the legislation passed the House;
(ii) the number of Representatives voting for and against the legislation;
(iii) the number of Representatives absent for the vote;
(iv) the date that the legislation passed the Senate;
(v) the number of Senators voting for and against the legislation; and
(vi) the number of Senators absent for the vote.

(2) (a) Except as provided in Subsection (2)(b), within one legislative day of final passage, each piece of legislation shall be signed:

(i) first by the presiding officer of the house in which it was last voted upon; and

(ii) second, by the presiding officer of the other house.

(b) Within five days following the adjournment sine die of a legislative session, each piece of legislation passed on the final day of that legislative session shall be signed:

(i) first by the presiding officer of the house in which it was last voted upon; and
(ii) second, by the presiding officer of the other house.

(c) Unless the session has adjourned sine die, the Secretary of the Senate or Chief Clerk of the House shall note in the journal that the legislation was signed by the presiding officer.

JR4-6-102. Enrollment and Transmittal of Legislation to the Governor.

(1) (a) After a piece of legislation that has passed both houses has been signed by the presiding officers, the Secretary or Chief Clerk shall deliver it to the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.

(b) The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel shall:
(i) examine and enroll the legislation;
(ii) correct any technical errors as provided by Utah Code Section 36-12-12; and
(iii) transmit a copy of the enrolled legislation to:

(A) the Secretary of the Senate for legislation originating in the Senate; and

(B) the Chief Clerk of the House for legislation originating in the House.

(2) When enrolling the legislation, the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel shall:
(a) include the name of the House floor sponsor for Senate legislation under the heading "House Sponsor:"; or
(b) include the name of the Senate floor sponsor for House legislation under the heading "Senate Sponsor:".

(3) The Secretary of the Senate or Chief Clerk of the House shall:

(a) certify each enrolled piece of legislation;
(b) ensure that a copy of the enrolled legislation is:
(i) transmitted to the Governor;
(ii) filed with the Secretary or Chief Clerk;
(iii) transmitted to the chief sponsor upon request; and
(iv) transmitted to the Office of Legislative Printing.

She concluded by saying:
"The purpose behind constitutional limitations of legislative power is to promote fair, open, and honest legislative proceedings. It is certainly appropriate to use the system of checks and balances available through the courts to determine what legislative procedures are constitutional and what legislative procedures are not. Our legislative leaders could take prudent action and reconsider some sections in the current SB 2 as stand alone bills in a special legislative session."
Seems like a reasonable response! There are rules for a reason. There are checks and balances for a reason. The Utah Constitution has not been upheld and the plaintiffs are standing up against that. The belief that the Rules of the Fifty-Seventh Legislature may not have been followed, specifically for two of the bills (H.B. 67 and H.B. 270), does not make the bundling of the bills more or less wrong. The procedural wrong occurs when bills are bundled; it does not necessarily matter how you get to the point of bundling. The hostage taking occurs through the combination of bills -- whenever that happens during the legislative process; what happens before you combine bills (and hence take one or more of them hostage) is incidental to that fact. It's nonetheless interesting to point out that rules were clearly violated and that someone very familiar with the rules finds it to be clearly a violation, one that couldn't be overlooked simply by accident. That's why Carole decided to become one of the plaintiffs on the case. It's not because it's an election year stunt, as Senator Stephenson and others have accused. Carole knows a breech of the rules when she sees it.

Furthermore, the holdup of bills that should have stood on their own further illustrates that something is amiss. Why didn't a few of these bills go all the way, standing on their own? They certainly could have, and they should have!

UtahTeacher at Utah Education Issues has put together several enlightening posts on the Omnibus Bill, including:
Most of you have likely already read the posts, but if you haven't I would recommend giving them a read.

Finally, I want to point out what others have pointed out -- I don't believe the plaintiffs taking action are doing so for political gain. I believe that's an easy out (typical cliché response when you've got nothing better to say) for those defending their actions and it's too bad for them that the public is seeing right through it. The complaint states:
"...all plaintiffs are concerned with the openness, fairness, and integrity of the process by which the Utah State Legislature enacts legislation and the extent to which that process, if constitutionally impaired, impacts their ability, as representatives, senators, education officials, or constituents, to affect that process."
I don't see how it could be any different. Thank goodness for 38 individuals who have the guts to do what it takes to hold people accountable and to make sure Legislators heed the Utah Constitution. What good does it do us if it's not upheld? If we can just do what we want when we want and after the fact say that it's not a big deal, what part of the Utah Constitution will be violated next? Rules, policies, constitutions - they're all only as good as how strictly they are followed and enforced. It's wonderful that there are people who care about that!

Friday, June 6, 2008

What Just Happened?

Maybe I'm psychic. Maybe I'm just a pessimist. Maybe I could see the train coming down the railroad track because, like so many other public school advocates, I was standing on the track when it hit us. Without any interviews, without any time for public input to his office, without meeting with public school advocates, Governor Huntsman just gave voucher supporters their revenge on those who resoundingly turned down vouchers in Utah. I told you so.

Only three days ago, the list of state school board candidates was whittled down to three for each district (and perhaps I shouldn't say whittled because it was a block vote clear cut) and then submitted to Governor Huntsman for further action. Members of the education community requested a visit with the governor to talk to him about the Nominating Committee's decisions and urge him to offer voters a true choice of candidates in each district, but there wasn't time for a meeting. There wasn't time for Huntsman to interview the candidates for himself. There wasn't time for public comment or even a letter to the editor. The only time I've seen government move this quickly was when there was something to hide.

The governor took swift action today and with the stroke of a pen, got rid of more very qualified individuals who would have served our children well. One of them was District 1 incumbent Theresa Theuer, Still another was A. LeGrand Richards, current Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations at BYU. Both were ranked third by the committee. Could the governor really have simplified it to that extent? In fact, it looks like that's exactly what he did. He just took the top two from each district according to the skewed committee rankings. Well, hell! Why do we need the governor at all? The omnipotent and business heavy committee took care of everything! Way to go committee! Way to go Governor! You just showed how little you really care for the voice of the people and for our public schools.

Download a copy of the press release and the letter to Lt. Governor Herbert and see for yourself. Will people believe me now? I've been blogging about this since early in May. Education members of the committee and newspapers have been warning of this since April. Yet most people would rather just claim that we're conspiracy theorists. Really? How about fortune tellers!?! That would fit the bill, too, wouldn't it?

Voucher pushers were not happy with Governor Huntsman's lukewarm efforts to support them back during Referendum One. But now, in an election year, he will redeem himself by handing over the State School Board, the group that should be the watchdogs for our public schools. Voucher lovers will get their revenge and the Governor will get those lobbyist campaign donations he wants. Everyone wins, right? Yeah, right.

Monday, June 2, 2008

School Board Election Process Fails Us! (Big Surprise)

The votes are in and the stink is DEFINITELY out! Today was voting day for the State School Board Nominating Committee. The process is a sham, and, as it turns out was passed as part of an omnibus bill in 2002! I'll talk more about omnibus bills in a future post, but first let's talk about how this process set forth in HB 152 failed us again, as we figured it would.

If I could link to the Paul Rolly story that he wrote on April 14th, I would. Since I can't, allow me to quote him. He said:

"Some clever manipulations are going on behind the scenes by legislative leaders not willing to give up the voucher fight. They are aided by a distracted governor too busy earning his stripes in John McCain's presidential campaign to pay much attention to the goings-on in Utah.

The committee four years ago eliminated popular school board incumbent Michael Anderson, so the voters didn't even have a say in re-electing him. There are several incumbents up for re-election this year. If they don't get past the committee, then you'll know. There is something foul brewing in the palace."

Well, something's foul all right. Of five incumbents, two (Bill Colbert and Board Chair Richard Sadler) were eliminated outright, and one more, Teresa Theurer slid through by one vote. Yes, you read that correctly. The committee fired the Chair of the State School Board, before his constituents--or even the governor--had a chance to look at him! This is a person who not only won election from his constituents, but was also chosen by his peers to be the person most capable of chairing the Board. And he was ousted by businessmen who don't even live in his district!

So how did it happen? It was a somewhat complicated process.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Nominating Committee set some ground rules. Each member of the committee would vote for their top three candidates in each district. They would award their top choice with 3 points, their second choice with 2 and their last choice with 1. The three candidates with the most points would be forwarded on to the Governor, who would narrow it down to two for the ballot. Since the committee is required to submit three names in each district, each committee member was required to vote for three candidates. After a closed door discussion of the candidates, the meeting was opened back up, and the voting began. You can review the raw data here. (Thanks to Barry Newbold who made sure the votes were recorded). In the spreadsheet, I've identified the votes of the business representatives and those of the education representatives on the committee.

As you can see, clear lines have been drawn, and our earlier suspicions were correct. I asked if the Nominating Committee had a hidden agenda - they do. I asked if it was possible for the Nominating Committee to only forward the names of their voucher buddies - they did. In nearly every vote you can see how the business members (i.e. anti-public education members) of the committee voted together to get their way. And, as you can see, the vote was stacked.

Here's an interesting note: In District 7, despite the agreed upon rules, two business members didn't even bother to cast their last vote. Who knows how the results might have been affected if the education representatives had done the same thing?

Following the meeting, committee member Jed Steveson coolly remarked, "You win some, you lose some." He's right. When the process is flawed, easily manipulated, with no real community input, you certainly do lose some.

The next question is, where will the governor take it from here?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

State Treasurer's Race got Dirty Before it Began

The race for State Treasurer got dirty before it even began! It happened back on March 10th, when Mark Walker made Richard Ellis (Deputy Treasurer) the following offer: In return for Richard dropping out of the race, Walker assured Ellis that he and his entire staff would be retained after Walker is elected AND he would substantially increase Ellis' salary. However, if Ellis was to stay in the race he would fire Ellis and his staff if he were to win the election. Walker is claiming it never happened, despite the emails that prove it.

So, what does the position of State Treasurer have to do with our public schools? It has much to do about our State Trust Lands that generate revenue for our schools. So there is much ado about who might hold that position, particularly from public school advocates.

Natalie Gordon, Utah PTA Trustlands Commissioner, has written a very nice post on her blog, Education in Utah. (Edit: It was pointed out that Natalie is not representing the PTA on said blog, rather her own opinions.) Please read the full article here, but allow me to quote some specific points that she makes. After she read the Tribune article, Natalie pointed out that while the job offer is disturbing, it isn't even the job offer that concerns her most. She read between the lines and uncovered Walker's credentials, or lack thereof. (Emphasis added.)

"It is reading between the lines and realizing that Walker didn't actually invest money for Zions - he was a "Sales Resource Officer," whatever that is. And, at the [State Republican] convention, I saw Angus Belliston, former Region VP for Zions, with an Ellis button. I thought that was news! I had worked with Mr. Belliston at the Provo Region office of Zions 14 years ago, and he was an incredible, well respected Region Manager - and he wasn't supporting Walker - the Zions' employee. But today's Trib points out that Harris Simmons, current CEO of Zions Bank, is supporting Ellis as well. It seems like people that understand money understand that you need someone qualified to invest it. I know that Mark Walker has a BS in Political Science. I do, too. I know he was employed by Zions Bank for a while. I was employed there for 5 years. I even balance my own checkbook. But, when you're talking about billions of dollars - especially that one billion dollar permanent fund that so many have worked so hard for - we need a treasurer that knows what he's doing. So, I'm voting for Richard Ellis.

And one great reason to support Ellis? Unlike Mark Walker, his boss is endorsing him.

"Richard Ellis is the only candidate who has negotiated bank contracts, invested public money, managed a state department and made credit presentations to the bond rating agencies. That is the kind of experience we need for State Treasurer."

Edward T. Alter,
Utah State Treasurer
Natalie, I get it now, too. Between trying to bribe his way into office and his lack of credentials it seems clear to me that Walker is not the man for this job.

I'll try to keep an eye on this one and let you know how it goes. We need to make sure that there is accountability when it comes to the $1 billion Permanent School Fund. I've heard through the rumor mill that there could even be some back room deals going on right now about changing how "permanent" the school fund really is. Could it be that that's what Walker's bid for State Treasurer is actually about in the first place? I hope not, but it seems there are lots of fronts from which public education can be attacked and someone is out there making sure to cover them all!