Tag Archives: partisan school board elections

Partisan School Board Elections Resolution Passes

On Saturday, April 26, 2014, the GOP state delegates passed a resolution at convention asking GOP legislators to enact partisan school board elections for both the state school board and local school board members. Though there was no definitive tally made, visual estimates put the passing vote between 75-85% of delegates in attendance. The resolution did get amended to remove the last two paragraphs that dealt with the party engaging in non-partisan election efforts (which apparently they are barred from), so we need to get the party leadership and legislators all on board with this resolution (which was non-binding) so that next session we get partisan elections passed into law.

If you were among the delegates who voted for this resolution, thank you for taking the time to understand the real issues, the federal intrusion that Utah officials have already brought into the state, and recognizing the value of parents in their role as delegates vetting candidates.

Can you imagine a parent who wants non-partisan elections for school board members, actually spending even 15 minutes with each of 6 school board candidates to try and vet each of them and make an intelligent vote in a primary race to reduce the field? It isn’t going to happen among the masses. The one-party education establishment will always get their candidate through a primary because they can send out one email that gets their members out to the polls to vote. The absence of political parties from these races guarantees that each race will stay under the general control of the establishment.

The public at large has rejected partisan school board elections in a poll that was conducted some time ago. These numbers are touted by establishment players like the UEA in order to stop this movement toward partisan elections. The reason the public has rejected partisan elections is because they have not taken the time to understand the issue as delegates did coming to convention. It is evident that when locally elected delegates get informed on an issue and can understand it, they tend to make an informed decision, unlike an uninterested public. We might as well ask the public to take a survey on fracking that environmentalists put together as to ask us about partisan elections. The public just doesn’t have all the facts at hand. It is now incumbent on delegates and anyone who understands the issue to help your neighbors better understand it. I will be posting a master resource page soon that will have links to various resources you can use in this effort.

Here are the speeches I gave at the convention to help illustrate why the resolution needed to pass. Also speaking was Kim Kehrer who was a very qualified individual running for school board last time that made it to the final round where she was asked if she had issues with Common Core, and expressing some, was then eliminated. Also, an educator spoke in favor of the resolution.

Resolution opening speech

With Utah’s education budget over $4 billion, don’t tell me it isn’t partisan and politicized. The reason the education establishment doesn’t want partisan elections is they don’t want independent thinkers and ideas that could change the status quo which is the same tired path of blaming the legislature for underfunding education. The CATO Institution just released a study that shows over the last 40 years, we’ve tripled education spending (link to CATO report) and actually had a decline in SAT scores.

It’s time we gave the same scrutiny to the education system in Utah, that made Utah the best managed state in the union. The superior caucus and delegate system lets a broad cross section of parents, vet candidates for principles and ideas that will spark new life into our education system. To accuse us of wanting to put party above the welfare of our own children is a desperate plea to maintain political power.

And if you want to compare us to Texas, use demographic information and remember, at least they are free to innovate.

I ask that you vote for this resolution which gets our local neighborhoods more involved in the process.


Note: The reason for the inclusion of the Texas line was because the USBA (Utah School Boards Association) had made talking points for educators around the state and they were at the convention passing out a flier which basically said Utah was superior to Texas in several areas such as the percentage of graduates and other such stats. I didn’t put Texas in the resolution because they were superior, but because they have partisan elections, they rejected Common Core and they are now free to innovate with their own standards.)


Resolution closing speech

Two years ago, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new federal grant program that local school districts could bypass the legislature and state office of education. Five Utah school districts applied for that money with strings attached.

Two months ago, two senior officials at the Utah State Office of Education sent a letter to educators around the state asking them to oppose a bill that would have replaced Common Core saying, “This bill essentially gives more power to parents over curriculum standards, and would prevent us from adopting any national standards.” That bill failed as did the partisan election bill they opposed.

State education officials also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the feds when Utah agreed to move forward on Common Core, acknowledging a federal role in Utah education.

Don’t tell me the establishment doesn’t welcome federal control or have practically unchallenged power.

We need partisan elections to challenge the establishment. We are parents before we are Republicans and we are best qualified to find principled candidates for our children’s school boards. Please vote for this resolution.


Note: The same USBA flier mentioned above talks about how they don’t want federal control and how these people who run our education system are for local control in education. The most vocal individual from the USBA on this issue is former state superintendent Patti Harrington, one of the primary authors of the USBA flier, and who was one of the two signatories on the Memorandum of Understanding that acknowledged to the federal government they have a role in Utah’s education system. What irony… Governor Huntsman was the other signer.  Ahhh, but what meaning do words have… We’ll just tell the people we favor local control because we do have it as long as we let the federal government have a role and dictate a *few* things to us.


Responding to charges against partisan school board elections

I sent this letter to state delegates today and am publishing it to help the public have an opportunity to see some of the arguments against partisan elections, and my responses to those charges.


Dear Delegates,

I hope you all took some time to read through my email from a couple days ago to help provide some support for my resolution, particularly the Deseret News piece which was excellent. After my email the other day, I received a number of very supportive comments for the resolution for partisan school board elections, and some questions from delegates. Some of those questions relate to things said on Doug Wright’s radio show from Tuesday. I listened to his show and below is a brief rundown of concerns presented there and my responses. However, first, do you know about the power of the UEA network which is threatened by this resolution and why they are trying so hard to oppose it.

This week the Utah School Board Association has asked for state delegates to contact the USBA Chair so they can speak against this resolution.  This is exactly what makes the case IN FAVOR of this resolution. The USBA is free to ask its members to support a particular position.  However, without partisan elections, what organization exists with the same ability to disseminate information to combat the USBA, the USSA (superintendents), the UASBO (business administrators), the UEA, the Elementary Principals’ Association (UAESP), the Secondary Principals’ Association (UASSP), the Utah School Employees’ Association (USEA–Lunch ladies, custodians, bus drivers, librarians, school nurses, etc)?  All these organizations receive dues, many from taxpayer dollars, like USBA, and have paid people to lobby for or against legislation and for or against candidates.  One email to the membership of all these organizations would cover the state, very easily.  The only other organizations that have as broad of a reach statewide are the political parties, Democrats and Republicans.

The main reason why these organizations don’t want partisan elections is that it will create more opposition (competition) in them being able to get their information out.   Additionally, if you look at the USBA scorecard, those who voted with the USBA 90% of the time were all Democrats.  You had to get down to a much lower percentage to find Republicans who voted with the USBA. Speaker Lockhart was in the 30’s, I think.  For the GOP, this needs to be pointed out.  Absent partisan elections, the state will continue to provide the Education Associations an uncontested messaging system.  Even if partisan elections are problematic in some realms, the ability to inform voters on both sides of an issue, like in a courtroom, demands opposing parties strongly advocating for their positions.  Then the jury (or the voters) can make informed decisions.  If you only get to hear one side of the argument being vigorously defended, do you have an informed decision?

The point isn’t partisanship, the point is hearing messaging from both sides of an issue and having an organization able to widely disseminate that information to its members to allow for that to occur.  As the State GOP, it should be realized that leaving the Education Associations unmatched, the message that is getting out is that supported, primarily, by Democrats. 

Now on to the Doug Wright show. During his third hour on Tuesday, Doug thankfully acknowledged on several occasions that the current system is broken.

He had two guests on his show. One was Mark Mickelsen, the executive director of the UEA, and then Patti Harrington, an Associate Executive Director of the Utah School Boards Association. You get one guess where his guests stood on this issue. :)


Doug: “What is the UEA’s opinion of turning school board races into partisan races?”

Mark: UEA supports non-partisan elections for the reason thatit’s probably the most transparent, engaging, and representative process for establishing education policy in the state.


My comment: Are you kidding?. We already have non-partisan elections locally for school boards, and there is a huge lack of interest in those races, people aren’t engaged, and it’s certainly not representative when you have a single education establishment party that is organized to elect their picks. At least with partisan elections, you get a cross sample of the public in every precinct who are tasked with finding who the candidates are with the best ideas that will help our schools. It’s also more transparent because you know who is promoting and vetting candidates. Nobody sees the UEA network working behind the scenes because they are not a registered political party, but they certainly wield power like one. Engaging? What is more engaging than thousands of delegates asking tough questions of candidates? Where does that EVER happen in non-partisan races? It doesn’t. Everything Mark said above is precisely why partisan elections are superior to non-partisan elections.


Thankfully Mark then acknowledges the election process for state school board members is in fact broken. So basically, the current system is broken, and they want non-partisan elections. Why? Please review the top few paragraphs above.

Doug Wright then talks about how he’s been guilty of not knowing who was running for school board. He then accurately notes “far too many of us, when we do vote, this is the area where we have the least familiarity…”

My comment: Doug is exactly right. School board races fly under the radar. People don’t generally get excited about these races because they’re more focused on the “big races.” Not many people get excited about the county clerk race or county assessor or school board member. However, two of those 3 are able to run low cost campaigns where people actually come and ask them questions and cast an informed, broadly representational vote for someone. Meanwhile, most people remain ignorant about what is perhaps the most important race in the state because it deals so strongly with our future.


Doug: “Why will making the races partisan make it worse?” (than the current broken system)

Mark: He spoke in favor of SB 54 which was the bill that stopped the Count My Vote initiative by basically giving them what they wanted to bypass the parties, and said the resolution is in direct opposition to this resolution. (ie. Mark supports Count My Vote)

My comment: No surprise here that Mark favors Count My Vote, but this also isn’t even a reason partisan races will make what they already identified as a broken system, even worse.


Doug:one big concern, one huge concern, I don’t like the straight ballot vote… I think everyone who throw their hats in the ring…sacrifice their family makes…deserves the courtesy of having everyone at least read their name.” Doug believes if we have partisan elections, “the lazy voter will just hit the R or D and automatically votes for people they’ve probably never even heard their name which really concerns me.”

My comment: Of course, we hope all people would get involved and informed, but the lazy voter Doug identifies here isn’t someone who is going to know who is even running in a non-partisan election, so at least with a party by a candidate’s name they can vote for someone who is probably closer to their ideological position.


Mark: “There’s another issue, I received some information from a practicing attorney here in Utah, and one of the comments he made that I found very interesting that partisanship may be unconstitutional based on Article 10 section 8 of the Utah constitution.

Mark then quotes this section which is:

“Article X, Section 8. [No religious or partisan tests in schools.]

No religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required as a condition of employment, admission, or attendance in the state’s education systems.”

My comment: Now I don’t know who this attorney is that sent Mark this concern, but a proper reading of this doesn’t support this interpretation. Nobody is required to be of a given religion or political party to be a school board member. Also, the same exact language exists in the U.S. Constitution. Article 6, section 3 says:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

What is a test? The Framers set this in the Constitution because they never wanted a litmus test for office where only a single religious preference could hold office  like they suffered under in England (ie. The Church of England). That’s a violation of freedom of conscience of individuals. Article X, Section 8 of the Utah code is simply asserting the same exact thing that there can’t be a religious or partisan “test” for office. We can’t say, “only a Republican or Mormon can hold this school board seat.” It would be unconstitutional and immoral to do something like that, but having partisan votes for school board candidates to see who will go to the ballot for a given party is perfectly constitutional because the ballot doesn’t represent employment, admission, or attendance.


Patti Harrington from USBA now comes on the show.

Patti: She expresses her fear that party members who swear allegiance to a party platform could be making decisions that are about the party instead of about the children.

My comment: When I vetted candidates for county clerk, I didn’t ask them “if it comes down to a decision that comes to you directly from the GOP party, are you going to be loyal to the party, or do what’s right for taxpayers?” That would be a stupid question to ask. I heard none of my fellow delegates ask such stupid questions. It’s not on anyone’s mind except those trying to dissuade the party from creating a competitive environment for the current monopoly. If I was a delegate and had 3 school board candidates to vet, I’d ask them their philosophy on education, what principles they feel makes for a good education system, how they would enhance the ability of a teacher to work more directly with parents and students, and so on. Partisan elections aren’t about partisanship, they are about getting a marketplace of ideas to compete with each other and see what cream rises to the top. Yes, it’s about the children and partisan elections will help make their future brighter.


Patti: on state board elections “so that process universally…is considered broken.”

My comment: 3 for 3 now in agreement the current process is broken.


Doug: “Patti, what are the downsides/upsides to local partisan elections”

Patti: “I don’t see any upsides.”

My comment: People in the education establishment of course wouldn’t see any upsides because partisan elections represent a loss of power to the single party network that covers the state and with a single email can reach all their members with an endorsement of a candidate. The only people that can stand against this well organized party, is another political party. Nobody else is so well organized.


Doug: said he read a couple editorials and shared these quotes:

“Candidates when they are running on a partisan basis tend to look to the party officials and party needs rather than the needs of the students and the parents.”

“It brings into the school system the overheated rhetoric of the state house campaigns. It brings that now into our schools.”

My comment: My first response is, have these people even looked at the broad range of voting by Republican lawmakers in Utah? It’s all over the board with some conservative and some voting to the left of many Democrats. Once in office, people tend to follow their own agenda, not the party. With $4.6 billion at stake in education spending in Utah, the UEA establishment likes their virtual monopoly on board seats.


Doug: “we are already sadly, too many of us, clueless about who is running for the school board and this will make us even more clueless.”

My comment: Actually, it will have the exact opposite effect. As Doug noted above, even he doesn’t know who his school board members are. Nobody vets them except the UEA. Making elections partisan will give far more people a “clue” about who is running and what their principles are.

I sincerely hope you will vote for this resolution on Saturday and help bring a fresh new perspective to the education system in Utah. Lets get the best ideas out there to rise to the top and make Utah the best education system in the country.


Oak Norton