Current system for electing state board of education members is too easily manipulated
Rep. Carl Wimmer is proposing partisan elections for the state board of education. Opponents criticize this as “politicizing” education.
Reform opponents, however, don’t want voters to know how their state school board is currently “elected”. Not only is the current system “politicized”, it is hardly democratic, and the process is easily manipulated by the education establishment. This manipulation, not vouchers, is the impetus for changing the current process.
When considering the current system for nominating and electing school board members, ask yourself if you think Utah should elect legislators and governors in the same way.
Here’s how the system works.
Step One: Low-profile committee recruits and selects nominees for the state school board
A group of insiders gets to determine who appears on the ballot in November. Currently, a low-profile 12-member committee consisting primarily of UEA supporters is supposed to select three candidates in each board race for the governor’s consideration. In order to get on the ballot, a candidate must be nominated by this committee. Members of the committee are supposed to represent a broad range of interests, but they typically represent the education establishment. Unlike the two-party process, this committee is virtually unknown to the public, and the local media provides very little if any coverage of this committee’s membership or decisions.
Step Two: The Governor makes his choices
Using the committee’s list of recommended candidates, the governor then picks up two candidates for each race (or one if the committee only picks one candidate for a given race) and then puts these names on the ballot.
When the committee picks one candidate for a given race (which is a violation of the law), then that one candidate automatically appears on the ballot unchallenged and is elected to the state board of education.
Step Three: The people “choose”
This is hardly an election in the true sense of democracy since the candidates on the ballot were not selected by an open, accessible, contested process. They were selected by a low-profile committee and the governor. At least in a partisan process, most races would be contested, either within the party at convention or primary or in the general election.
To get on the ballot in the current process, there are no public debates or meet-the-candidates nights. It’s all done quietly and without any scrutiny except for a very small committee.
Sometimes, a reform candidate manages to get on the ballot, but this is rare. In the end, the “election” is almost always a perfunctory ratification of the establishment’s candidates, not a true election.
Some people claim that Utah’s “one-party” partisan process is too restrictive and is dominated by Utahns with narrow interests. However, the current process for selecting state school board members is much more restrictive and closed than the process for electing the governor and legislators.
Brazen manipulation of the system in 2006, not vouchers, is the impetus for change
The current restrictive process is bad enough, but the education establishment’s brazen manipulation of this process last year was the final straw for many legislators. Here’s a summary of what happened:
1. Although state law requires the committee to be formed by November 1 in the year prior to the election, the 12-member committee was not formed until March, just days prior to the candidate filing deadline.
2. The committee was stacked with mostly UEA loyalists.
3. None of the eight races had more than two nominees for the governor to choose from.
4. In three races, the committee did not recommend anyone other than the incumbent.
Opponents of partisan elections for state board of education are going to have a hard time justifying the current system.
Utah Taxpayers Association