Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Public meeting with Senators Bramble and Dayton and Representative Grover--I was there and took 4 pages of notes

However, this will be the very short version for now. I need to go to bed.

Embarrassing gaffe alert: Due to writing this after midnight and two busy days, I completely messed up a name in my original post. Representative Morley was not there. Where did that come from? I have no idea...

Senators Bramble and Dayton and Representative Grover met with people from the neighborhood at Cherry Hills Elementary in Orem on Tuesday, Jan. 15th. The senators and representative spoke to us for about 30 minutes and then took a lot of questions. In the spirit of my previous encounter with Senator Dayton, I want to be constructive in my interactions with legislators, but still honest.

The 3 presenters talked about a wide range of things in response to questions, but touched upon the following two themes at least 10 times each:

1. The UEA, and to a lesser extent the State School Board, are obstructionists who are opposing needed reforms.

2. We are not beholden to special interests and the current articles attacking legislators for receiving gifts are insulting. (I was asked if I was a media member because I was taking a lot of notes. =D There was just one reporter from the Daily Herald actually in attendance.) They specifically referenced this article:

and I'm sure this one was on their mind as well:
(I've got the full text of the articles saved because the Trib doesn't make them accessible after a couple weeks. I'll make another post of just the articles I guess...)

They also addressed energy concerns with oil shale and nuclear power, nuclear storage, pollution, public transportation, Frontrunner and the I-15 rebuild in Utah County, referendums, merit pay, incentive pay for certain teachers, property taxes, and partisan school boards. But they constantly returned to the first two topics.

I would call their tone defensive. But to be fair, I probably have been defensive on this blog when teachers' integrity and abilities have been questioned. The differing perceptions I wrote about after talking with Senator Dayton were definitely present. I think it is hard for people with completely different day-to-day realities to overcome their differences and assumptions.

They mentioned the agenda of the media and how things are distorted multiple times. Senator Dayton said the new website which allows you to watch committee meetings and actual legislative session allows the public to see for themselves without the media filter. Fair enough--I think it's awesome that we can watch session. I realistically am not going to take a pay dock to take a personal day to drive up to SLC to watch a session, especially when the schedule of debate is so fluid and it's so hard to plan for a sub. But I would love to watch some education committee meetings via the internet.

Senator Dayton mentioned a couple negative personal attacks that were indeed irrelevant to policy and over the line of decency. Senator Bramble, jokingly admitting that he was the 3rd highest gift receiver on the list in the article, outlined a couple situations where he felt accepting travel expenses to discuss an issue was actually a responsible way to get informed. He and Stan Lockheart have been friends for 25 years and he goes to Jazz games with him. I tend to agree on the propriety of a couple of his actions, but the problem is that they of course only discussed highly defensible actions rather than the full spectrum of gifts received and conflicts of interest of legislators such as Greg Curtis or Aaron Tilton. Can they at least see the appearance of impropriety from the Jazz games and golf rounds? Do they really believe that the legislators aren't influenced by the money? Also, Senator Dayton made a valid point that the vast majority of the public, even active voters, don't make campaign contributions. I'll buy that because all the money I spent on voucher flyers and cookies was the first money I'd used politically. And I'm not sure I'm for public financing of campaigns either. Do we concede that the "inevitable" expenses of campaigns must be filled by the willing donations of business interests? I don't know.

(And they only used Democratic Senator Dmitrich as their example of honorable men who aren't influenced by the large amount of gifts they received. Damning by faint praise... They brought him up multiple times as well as a Democratic senator that supposedly has a $15,000 "tab" from the UEA, while conveniently not mentioning Republican gift receivers.)

As for the UEA stuff, I felt it was often misleading. There is true personal animosity between the senators and the UEA (though I'm not sure who exactly in the faceless UEA they hold responsible for what they dislike). I've already written a lot about the UEA and I want to address a long post to merit pay soon. A few other education items of interest:

1. I personally asked if they intended on making it harder to hold a referendum on a bill passed by the legislature. They held forth a little bit on how special interests dominate public votes more than legislative votes, how governing by excessive initiatives and referendums has ruined California, and that the Constitution wisely establishes a representative government rather that a true democracy...but Senator Bramble finally clearly stated that he thought the bar to petition for a referendum was high enough and didn't need to be raised. He specifically said they will not try that this session. They may try and raise the bar for citizen initiatives to be as high as referendums.
This page has links to both initiative and referendum requirements.

2. Another lady asked if they were going to push the bill to make the State School Board elections partisan. Senator Bramble explained all of the reasons that he thought it was a good idea, but said they will not run that bill this year. He did specifically say they would next year if the legislature thinks the governor doesn't follow the process correctly.

3. Various merit pay proposals and incentives will be on the docket this year, as well as another $2500 raise directly to teachers.


Voice of Utah said...

It appears that there may be a temporary reprieve this year from the most retaliatory bills because it's an election year. I'm not looking that gift horse in the mouth.

Frank Staheli said...

It's funny how the legislators make excuses for something that is indefensible--legislative bribes. If Bramble wants to go the game with Lockhart, all he has to do is buy his own ticket.