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.