Utah and USBE Elections #

I came a little late to the news, but thanks to a little birdie, I was pleased to hear a federal judge in Utah invalidated the convoluted process candidates for State Board of Education were pruned prior to the general election, on unclear, but clearly ideological grounds.

Despite being a beneficiary of the process, I agree it was broken and rigged. For goodness sakes, since 2008 the process has eliminated four or five incumbents (who must have at one time been deemed qualified), including a lawyer (in favor of a candidate described in a court brief as “a janitor who can’t spell and wants to limit enrollment in public schools by deporting aliens”), former Board vice chair, a university dean, and members who either previously or subsequently served on the State Board of Regents (an appointed position). Plaintiffs removed from the ballot this election cycle are to be reinstated.

Super bonus points to plaintiff lawyers who included this gem in their reply brief:

Indeed, using these criteria, the Committee or Governor can pick any knucklehead to run for a seat on the USBE — and they can select that candidate because he’s a knucklehead, in order to broaden the variety of individuals who serve on the board, to diversify board membership so as to be more inclusive of knuckleheaded people who may be under-represented as a class of candidates, or for any other reason.page 11

Some have opined that the process should be replaced with partisan elections, and UtahPolicy.com has a poll on the subject. I’ve written about this before, and strongly believe partisan elections would be detrimental to education governance for a handful of reasons:

  1. Party platforms don’t map well to education policy positions.
  2. Consequently, party labels don’t, even marginally, inform voters on candidate’s (likely) educational policy positions, except, perhaps as they relate to charter schools.
  3. Party leadership would stack the ballots, putting greater power in few hands.
  4. Consequently, candidates would be more extreme. (Republicans would win in most districts; Republican candidates picked by convention are almost certainly more conservative than the voting public at large). Single-issue (read: less-effective) candidates would be more viable.
  5. As an additional consequence, candidates are more likely to respond to their base than the public at large.
  6. Partisan selection includes automatic delegates who might not reside in the candidates’ district, and consequently skew results.
  7. Partisan labels would interfere with members working together. (Have you seen Congress? Or even the state legislature?)
  8. PACs would likely have greater influence in elections, and their influence would likely be less transparent than would occur in a nonpartisan election.
  9. No one I’ve met with on a partisan board thinks it’s a good idea (and I spoke with several during my term).
  10. What is rarely mentioned—I neglected to mention it in my piece several years ago—is that partisan elections for State Board of Education are almost certainly a violation of the Utah Constitution. But a little thing like constitutionality has never really stopped the Legislature.
Hire Tom! Hire Tom!