Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Know Your State School Board Candidates

The Utah State School Board election is being overshadowed by other elections, but that's not breaking news to you. It's not for lack of decent information about the School Board candidates that this race is being overlooked. There is plenty of information available if you know where to look. A quick google search gives you many options, but by the second page it's hit or miss. In hopes of saving you some time and making sure you're getting good information I've listed some of the resources I've used to get to know our Utah State School Board candidates.

District 1

  • Shelly Locke - UTPS Questionnaire, Trib Profile

  • District 4

  • Chris L. Dallin - UTPS Questionnaire, LWV Questions, Trib Profile
  • David Thomas - UTPS Questionnaire, LWV Questions, Trib Profile

  • Utah Moms Care

    District 7

  • Leslie Brooks Castle - Trib Profile
  • Randall A. Mackey (Incumbent) - UTPS Questionnaire, LWV Questions, Trib Profile
  • Utah Moms Care

    District 8

  • Janet A. Cannon (Incumbent) - UTPS Questionnaire, LWV Questions, Trib Profile
  • Trent E. Kaufman - UTPS Questionnaire, LWV Questions, Trib Profile

  • Utah Education Issues
    Utah Moms Care

    District 11

  • Dave Crandall - Trib Profile
  • Ted H. Heap - Trib Profile

  • District 12

  • Mark Cluff (Incumbent) - LWV Questions, Trib Profile
  • Carol A. Murphy - UTPS Questionnaire, LWV Questions, Trib Profile

  • Utah Moms Care

    District 13

  • Kyle Bateman - UTPS Questionnaire, Trib Profile
  • C. Mark Openshaw - Trib Profile

  • Utah Education Issues

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    State School Board Election Review

    Readers of this blog will remember that it was with great fervor that I attempted to create some level of awareness of the importance of the School Board elections. With just one week to go until election day, I'd like to bring it to your attention one more time. I'll begin by reminding you about what's already been said.

    On May 18th I talked about the process for selecting State School Board members. The process began early in May at the Governor's office with what was nearly a closed-door meeting, but thanks to concerned citizens who showed up to attend, the meeting was opened as it should have been to begin with. I talked about the process and how it's changed over time. I'm now convinced it needs to be changed again.

    With all of the to do about the meetings of the State School Board Nominating Committee being kept open to the public, I got to wondering why anyone would event want to serve on the State Board. On May 26th I outlined the important responsibilities that Board Members have and I thought about the ramifications of someone opposed to any public school system or disenfranchised with ours being able to undermine it from within by getting elected. If you're wondering why your vote matters as election day approaches, read this post.

    After suggesting that a State School Board candidate might have ill-intent, a reader directed me toward some interesting information on the state elections office website showing that infiltration had already occurred! The old adage "follow the money" was hitting me square in the jaw and I couldn't ignore it. On May 28th I outlined the large donations made by voucher pushers Parents for Choice in Education. It was quite apparent that one board member had already been bought in the 2006 race. If it could happen once could it happen again?

    I thought I'd do well to further explore the question, "Do school board candidates have hidden agendas?" There seemed to be quite a few candidates that had filed and were being interviewed that had ties to vouchers. If you're curious about which ones, read or re-read this post. On May 31st I talked about all of the candidates who have obvious ties to Parents for Choice in Education or had voiced a public position in favor of vouchers.

    It didn't take long to discover that the School Board election process failed us, but it was no surprise to many of us. On June 2nd, the nominating committee votes were in and the results showed that they had eliminated two incumbents and ranked another in third place. How is it that we have a process where ELECTED officials don't even have the opportunity to be re-elected? If the people voted them into office shouldn't it be the people who essentially vote them out? The results also showed how the business members of the committee voted together to get their way. The vote was stacked and in one instance (District 7) two business members didn't even bother to cast their last vote, despite agreed upon rules.

    On June 6th, just four short days later, the Governor finished the job by summarily picking the top two candidates as put forth by the Nominating Committee. Why our Governor was even involved in the process at that point was a mystery to me. It was supposed to be his job to make sure that the two most qualified and capable candidates were put on the ballot. That didn't happen as yet another incumbent (Theresa Theuer) was axed and a capable and well qualified candidate (A. LeGrand Richards) was cut.

    Since then I've turned my focus elsewhere, but with the election right upon us it's important to bring this up again. We'll have to live with the decisions we make and in some cases it will be a matter of choosing the lesser of the two, if you know what I mean. We need to make sure that this process is changed in the future. The decision should be put back in your hands! The elections need to remain non-partisan. We can't leave these important decisions up to committees and governors.

    Stay tuned for part two tomorrow. I'll make sure you get the information you need on the remaining two State School Board candidates in each district so that you can make informed decisions.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Attorney General's Race Fires Up Over Vouchers and Ethics Reform

    Change is afoot.  Possibly.  Two-term Republican incumbent, Mark Shurtleff, is getting a run for his money (so to speak) from Democratic challenger, Jean Welch Hill.  The two recently debated some of the hottest topics in Utah politics, including the ubiquitous push for ethics reform and the equally charged voucher dialogue.

     Click here to read the article:

     First, Vouchers or No Vouchers

    While vouchers haven't been headlining local news lately, heated dialog and feelings on both sides of the issue continue.  While Republican leaders claim the bill died on the day it was soundly defeated by public vote, speculation exists that there will indeed be another run.

     Ms. Welch insists that Utahns need an AG that protects public education rather than one who supports dismantling it.  Moreover, she says that as the current AG, Mr. Shurtleff, provided "legal and moral support" to vouchers from his office and blocked her efforts to put the kibosh on it.  Mr. Shurtleff denies that he has ever publicly supported vouchers or misused his influential position.  Questions remain and the debate, statewide, and between these two candidates, continues.

     As the dialog goes on, I come full circle to the cadre of questions I had during the referendum contest.  One in particular speaks both to the soundness of vouchers and to transparency about the end goal.  Had the referendum passed, the first round of proposed voucher funding wouldn't really make it possible for most families to attend a private school, based purely on the gap between the scaled voucher amounts and the actual cost of tuition.  

    If families aren't immediately benefiting from a voucher program, then what is the practical purpose and who is benefiting?  Would the voucher bill have been a "baby step" toward more voucher funding and more "choice"?  Everyone wins, right?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Another possibility is that it is indeed intended as a baby step, but one towards an undisclosed endgame: a largely, if not completely, privatized education system.  Sit with that one for awhile....I'll probably come back to it soon.

     And Then There's the Question of Ethics

     Ah, yes, ethics reform.  Legislators and other individuals vying for public office (and your trust) have had their halos knocked askew by recent ethics complaints and probes.  Read a recent article here: , and also look for more news regarding the Mark Walker plea deal.  You could also look over this formal request from Phil Riesen's attorney's supporting his right to release the Greg Hughes complaint draft, and other relevant documentation, to the media:

     Both Attorney General candidates seem to agree that ethics in government is important, although it has not been a focal point for reform during Mr. Shurtleff's tenure.  Ms. Welch believes that the AG should lead the charge in changing "business as usual" ethics on Capitol Hill.  She just doesn't see the wisdom in having legislators police themselves and would call for an independent ethics commission to provide objectivity and obviously much-needed oversight.  Oh yeah, and a ban on gifts to elected officials could also be coming to a legislature near you.

     Yes, change is afoot.  Possibly.

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    Pledge for Ethics Reform

    Just two weeks ago, the coalition of Utahns for Public Schools released their best effort to bring ethics reform to the front and center for the next legislative session in the form of a pledge that legislators were invited to sign if they agreed with the actions that are being called for. A mix of incumbent legislators (17) and candidates (48) have already signed the pledge. The effort is bipartisan in nature with 22 Republicans and 42 Democrats on board with the five points of ethics reform that pertain to campaign financing. They are:
    1. Require full disclosure of any and all gifts and meals, (not including those provided to the entire legislative body), by both the recipient legislator and the provider of the gift/meal when that provider is a registered lobbyist, PAC, or acting on behalf of a company or corporation.
    2. Prohibit legislators or campaign committees from using campaign contributions for anything other than “legitimate” (i.e.: directly related to their campaign for election to public office) campaign expenditures, or for the execution of duties directly related to their public office.

    3. Require that unexpended campaign funds, upon defeat or retirement from the office in which the legislator served while generating the funds, be donated to a registered public charity or political party, or transferred to the School Trust Land Permanent Fund.

    4. Establish appropriate sanctions for legislators and others who fail to comply with the requirements listed above.

    5. Encourage transparency by providing sanctions for candidates, legislators, lobbyists, PACs, PICs and corporations who fail to file timely and accurate reports.
    I'm sure it's no mistake that the campaign was launched less than two months before election day. Incumbents and candidates who sign now will benefit since it certainly makes for a strategic campaign move. However, the true test will come when a bill comes before them in the 2009 legislative session concerning campaign finance reform. If they support it then they will be true to their pledge. If not, hopefully we'll take note and hold them to their word. You can see the full list of those who have signed at the Utahns for Public Schools Policy Center.

    Unfortunately the UTPS pledge has been stripped down to only include ethics reform related to campaign finances and contributions, a noteworthy and necessary undertaking. But, in August I suggested that what we really need is an ethics commission. This ethics problem is big enough that legislators are already drafting up an ethics reform bill for consideration in the 2009 session, however, they aren't even hoping for the formation of a commission. It may take some time, but we need to keep talking about it. The efforts by UTPS are a great start and hopefully it will make a difference, but it's still not enough!

    Yes, Utahns for Public Schools has certainly given us the start we need. We're also getting a big shove by the likes of several unprecedented ethics complaints this year. A big "thank you" goes out to people like Susan Lawrence who are willing to speak up (despite the untimely politicization of it). I'm proud of her for writing a letter "To Whom it May Concern". It had a different effect than she intended, but I hope in the end it will bring to pass much needed change in a system that more closely resembles the mob than a body of elected officials whose actions should be beyond reproach!

    Monday, October 6, 2008

    "Pay to play" or just "business as usual"?

    Former Representative Susan Lawrence recently illustrated a good example of why lawmakers should take reform seriously in the next session. She wrote a letter detailing alleged unethical behavior by Greg Hughes that occurred nearly two years prior. The complaint was leaked by Representative Riesen who claims that the public had a right to know about it. I agree, despite the spotlight this is going to put on Lawrence who says that she is saddened by the premature release of the information.

    After reading the complaint I began to wonder, if Susan Lawrence was confronted with a deal to trade votes for cash, how many others were approached with the same deal? How many of them might have taken them up on it and how many turned them down like Lawrence did? According to a footnote in the complaint:

    Corroborating these allegations respecting the attempted bribe of former Representative Lawrence, complainants are aware that another legislator, within the same time frame, also was offered equivalent campaign contribution assistance in exchange for a "yes" vote on the anticipated voucher bill. This legislator, like Lawrence, declined the bribe. We have not included this allegation in the complaint because, according to present information, the person making the bribe was not a legislator.
    I recently received information that Representative Paul Ray will possibly be testifying this week in the ethics hearings. He has spoken to others about a bribe that he received and those who have heard him talk about it say that he was offered $100,000 if he would change his vote on the voucher bill from nay to yea. He also reported the attempted bribe to the FBI. Why then, I wonder, if he was comfortable in making an official report to the FBI did he not report it as an ethics violation to his colleagues? Is it because he knew he wouldn't get anywhere by ruffling feathers and complaining about something that happens all the time? Is it because he would lose "all influence" in the House, a promise reportedly made by Hughes to other people who have tried to report abuses by those in power?

    I was curious to see if I could find a contribution by a voucher-tied donor so I started looking at 2006 campaign contributions. I wasn't able to find anything that came close to $50,000 or $100,000, but I did find the same trend that I found when I looked at the contributions to school board members in 2006. I thought that it was worth showing how not only voucher PACs like Parents for Choice in Education donated large sums of money, but other sources that could be tied to possible bribes. There is no proof as to whether or not the money came with strings attached, but at the very least I believe it demonstrates how it's common place for money to be influential in a campaign.

    When I was searching for the smoking gun I looked at the contributions to every candidate that voted in favor of HB148. I looked at the donors that might be tied to Greg Hughes or another known voucher-pushing-lawmaker. I included contributions made by Parents for Choice in Education since the voucher vote was at the crux of the matter, as well as contributions from Stephen Urquhart who was the sponsor of HB147. Due to the ability of funds to be filtered through the party I also included the contributions made by two Republican Party PACs. When I didn't find a whole lot in terms of people who had the opportunity to vote on the voucher bill, I turned my efforts to candidates who ran in 2006 but lost to their opponents. That's when the money painted a much different picture. The only other candidate that appeared to have the same pattern was that of Gage Froerer who won his bid for candidacy. All the other candidates listed below him in the table lost their bids. And what about contributions from the same voucher-tied donors for Lawrence and Ray? Well, they didn't get any. That raises some questions as to why not. Is it because they refused to change their vote?

    Lastly, when we talk about campaign ethics we have to think about the contributions that might have been made, but not reported. Surely, if someone is willing to unethically take cash for a vote they might also be willing to "forget" to report said cash. Could it be that the trading of cash for votes is so common place in our current system that people think nothing of it? It happens all the time, right? We'll need someone with subpoena power to ask the hard questions if we really want to get to the bottom of this.

    2006 Contributions to House Candidates in Tight Races


    Parents for Choice in Education PAC

    Utah Republican Party & Utah House Republican Election Committee

    Committee to Elect Stephen H Urquhart1

    Other Large Contributions with possible links to voucher votes

    Total Funds Raised

    Total Funds Raised by Opponent(s)

    Gage Froerer


    $14,629+** & $2,000+***




    $1,925 (Frandsen) $0 (Herbst)
    Jess Clifford


    $11,050.75** & $2,500***




    $24,346 (Gowans) $1,882 (Garrard)

    Denna Detton Ely
    $8,255+** & $4,500+***
    $24,957 (Duckworth) $400 (Froehle) $190 (Roose)
    Thomas Wright
    $2,471+** & $3,500+***

    $42,494 (McGee)

    Phillip M. Conder
    $2,281+** & 2,500***
    $16,833 (Fisher)
    Sandy Thackeray
    $7,968.89** & $2,000***

    $47,625 (Moss)

    Duane Millard
    $3,384.92+** & $2,000***

    $27,205 (Hemingway)

    Robyn Bagley
    $6,022** & $2,000***

    $38,313 (Morgan)

    + Multiple Contributions by the same PAC were added together.
    ** Contributions made by the Utah Republican Party
    *** Contributions made by the Utah House Republican Election Committee
    1 Contributions were listed from either "Stephen Urquhart" or "Committee to Elect Stephen H. Urquhart" or "Commitee [sic] to Elect Stephen H. Urquhart"
    2 Committee to Elect Howard Stephenson
    3 Salt Lake County Republican Party