Monday, April 28, 2008

The critics of the Utah County GOP incumbent protection policies were right, plus Houskeeper stirs the pot in District 60 caucus

Linda Houskeeper ran her campaign almost exclusively on changing the insider policies that keep power concentrated in the hands of a few individuals within the Utah County GOP. The automatic delegates were her main focus in cottage meetings and in her speech Saturday at the House District 60 Caucus. Houskeeper is a sincere, motivated person despite lacking some polish while speaking publically, and almost all of the delegates I spoke with shared at least some of her concerns. However, her focus didn’t always put her in the best of light. It made her seem like a one-issue candidate and came off as negative to a couple delegates I spoke with. Brad Daw is very articulate and down-to-earth and comes off as much more well-versed in the issues. Despite all of that, Brad Daw only garnered 60.4% of the delegate votes Saturday, meaning just one person voting differently would have dropped Daw below the 60% threshold, forcing a primary for the Republican nomination.

[Sidebar into automatic or ex officio delegate opinions. Very few delegates thought the practice was completely justified. Brad Daw said in reply to Houskeeper that he believed that all of the automatic delegates were elected at some time and their votes were justified. (Not an exact quote.) I don’t think most bought that. A very involved, conservative delegate explained that he was OK with the elected party officials of the county and state having automatic votes, but not with former party chairs having lifelong voting positions and the discretionary delegates appointed by the party chairman, currently Marian Monnahan, often in reward for things like organizing a fund-raising event. Others agree with Houskeeper that none of the automatic delegates should be allowed—that being elected in a vote of precinct chairs as party education chair or treasurer does not mean that you represent your precinct and should take a slot from someone else.

I fall more to that final side. I think that higher elected officials should be elected again in their precinct if they want a caucus vote, just like the “little guys” who show up and participate. The grass roots nature of the precinct caucuses should be preserved and voice given to those for whom higher political office is not desirable or feasible. I am not worried about the County GOP Chair or the Lieutenant Governor lacking a voice; the current office holders already have influence and a place at the table. Why should they automatically get two?]

The play-by-play:

Brad Daw gave his speech about his accomplishments and was clear and believable as usual. Linda Houskeeper started her speech making points about her being a normal person and not an insider. She recounted her first cottage meeting when Daw was first running for the legislature and that he answered a question about an issue, “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask the party how they want me to vote on that.” Daw is a nice guy, but if true, that is exactly the kind of insider garbage that people are mad about. There was a lot of whispering among the delegates here as they discussed her charge.

She then proceeded to use some homemade paper cut-outs of runners starting at different places in a race to make her point about automatic delegates. It was a good metaphor, but using cut-outs came off kind of silly. She explained how it wasn’t fair that 10 of 95 delegates in District 60 weren’t elected in their precinct meetings (That’s 10.5% if everyone showed up. Only 86 voted, leaving open the possibility that 11.6% of those votes were from automatic delegates.), and then she really started the minor uproar. She turned to Daw right in the middle of her speech and asked him if he would agree to have the automatic delegates in the room disallowed from voting. Everyone was taken by surprise and some delegates audibly gasped. Daw looked shocked and asked the District Chair, Ivan Keller, if he was permitted to answer her. While he deliberated, a particularly outspoken delegate in the back, former Daw primary opponent Calvin Harper, made a motion that the rest of the delegates vote on whether to include the automatic delegates. (He made a few other comments during the meeting as well.) It was seconded, but Keller ruled that it was out-of-order because the rules had already been voted on in committee earlier in the morning. There were a few minutes of confusion, and Lt. Governor Gary Herbert spoke up telling Houskeeper that he was an automatic delegate and intended to vote. Daw eventually replied that he believed all of the delegates had been elected in some fashion and deserved to vote.

Houskeeper then turned to some of the automatic delegates on the front row and asked them if they would voluntarily recuse their vote. None of them agreed. She made a final point about the delegates and finished. The room buzzed with delegates discussing the happenings and there was some argument about the motion to have the delegates vote on the automatic delegates. (If any of this is slightly out of order, sorry. It was a lot to remember.)

We voted and the box was taken to the central counting area along with watchers from both sides. There was free discussion for 10-15 minutes as we waited for the results. Herbert and Houskeeper apparently know each other personally and Herbert tried to broach the issue with Houskeeper. She said, “We just disagree on this issue Gary,” and turned away. Daw was visibly upset and quietly complained about it being a “cheapshot.” I’m not sure if he was referring to the ask-the-party comment or the attempt to disallow the automatic delegates. An automatic lifetime delegate named Ashby (or something very close to that) repeated the point to Daw that everyone had been elected.

And here’s my point. This Ashby guy was the GOP County Chair sometime in the past. He now is an automatic county (and state? I don’t know. Fill me in anyone?) delegate for the rest of his life. One more former chair and lifetime delegate named Shallenberger also lives in our district. I am not sure if he was there. I already explained how I don’t think that Herbert needs an automatic vote and I am making the fairly confident assumption that all 3 voted for Daw. There were other auto-delegates, but I don’t know their names or positions. What if any of the three I’ve discussed had been replaced by a local person from a precinct? Houskeeper would have achieved a primary if only one person voted differently, or if two of those three weren’t allowed to vote. The same situation happened in Rep. Grover’s District 61 and Rep. Tilton’s District 65 where his challenger reached 60% by two votes. I don’t know what percentage of their districts’ delegates are automatic, and it probably wasn’t the factor in Tilton’s race since he was the incumbent, but who knows? The automatic delegates, instituted in 2000 I believe, obviously played a huge role in these precincts and probably changed the results in favor of the incumbents, Daw and Grover.

Additionally, only 2 of the 7 contested races featured someone reaching 70% (including Sumsion who got 96% with his opponent apparently dropping out), which was the more reasonable standard until the year 2001. Another delegate and my father told me the rule was changed because Senator Orrin Hatch had almost been forced into a primary the year before (He was booed at the state convention my father recalled with a chuckle.) and the party insiders wanted to prevent a repeat. The threshold was lowered to 60% EXPLICITLY to protect incumbents, and this is common knowledge among longtime party participants.

If automatic delegates and the lowered threshold for a primary had not been in place, 5 of the 7 races would be into a primary, allowing the party rank-and-file to decide the outcome. That includes Senator Bramble’s race, despite his assertion that "I think misrepresentations and negative campaigning were proven to once again be an unsuccessful strategy…"
Final note—Lt. Governor Herbert addressed our caucus for a few minutes just before the results came back. He talked a lot about making a difference, but his first point was that the county and state party bylaws should match and that he was going to try to remedy the discrepancies. I, for one, will be watching to see if he keeps that promise. He repeated the good news from Friday that Utah has been rated the best-managed state in the nation. He ended by alluding again to the recent intra-party disagreements. He claimed that he appreciated divergent views in the party, but that he wanted to build consensus.

Deseret News, Daily Herald, and Tribune articles about the Utah County GOP Convention, including Rolly's denunciation

I am just posting links to the articles in the Deseret News and Herald. I will copy the whole text of the Trib articles since they restrict access after a week or two. Both the D-News and the Tribune cover the Tilton loss well and they both focus on the legislative races. The Herald article is shorter, but features more about some of the speeches from the candidates for the statewide offices and congressional seats.

This Deseret News explanation includes at the bottom the clearest exact vote breakdowns:,5143,695274218,00.html

The Herald article:

The Trib article:

Legislators Tilton, Fife booted at conventions
Nuclear power fan voted out by Utah County Republicans
By Cathy McKitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune
By Sheena McFarland
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/27/2008 02:43:37 AM MDT

OREM - At Saturday's Utah County Republican Convention, delegates
denied one incumbent lawmaker another term.
Former Mapleton City Councilman Francis Gibson gained 60.8 percent
of the vote to edge out two-term Rep. Aaron Tilton, who recently had
gone on the defensive against conflict-of-interest allegations
involving his proposal to build nuclear power plants in Utah.
"I'm very excited . . . and also awestruck with the amount of
support I had," said Gibson. "This election today was not a me
election, it was a we election. The people of our district wanted a
However, in eight other races, delegates favored the status quo by
giving incumbents at least 60 percent of the vote, thus avoiding a
June primary.
Tilton, who could not be reached for comment, was the high-profile
House sponsor of a 2007 law aimed at restricting participation in gay
student clubs. More recently, he came under fire for a perceived
conflict of interest. He serves on the Legislature's public utilities
committee and also heads up Transition Power Development LLC, a
company seeking to build nuclear power plants in Utah.
He also angered Mapleton residents who objected to bills he
sponsored to benefit Mapleton radiologist Wendell Gibby, who plans to
build homes on 120 acres of bench land zoned as environmentally
"There's some serious antagonism in Mapleton over land-use
issues," said U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Mapleton, who serves as an
automatic delegate because of his elected office.
Cannon suspects that other factors, including the recent flap over
Tilton's nuclear power plant plans, likely did some damage.
"The state Legislature could be more open about sources of income
and avoid that problem," Cannon said.
Tilton defended himself on his Web site and in an opinion piece
published in the Provo Daily Herald, saying the conflict-of-interest
charges were untrue and ''whether maliciously or out of ignorance''
were aimed at turning voters against him.
Tilton says there was no conflict because his business plan, if
approved, would be funded entirely by private investors and would not
involve the regulated utilities overseen by his committee.
Gibson conducted a rigorous campaign, said Marian Monnahan, who is
chairwoman of the county Republicans. Only two votes pushed him beyond
the 60 percent mark.
Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, who seeks a fourth term,
raked in 82 percent of the vote in spite of a lawsuit from the
Securities and Exchange Commission over a $3 million hedge-fund
invest- ment.
Party leaders muzzled Morley's opponent, Chance Williams, every
time he attempted to bring up the charge and Saturday's convention was
no different, despite Williams citing a section of Utah Code that
encourages candidates to voice frank and fearless criticism.
Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble overcame a spirited
challenge from Jacqueline deGaston and James O'Neal, and netted 67
percent of the vote.
Provo delegate Roger Nielsen cast his vote for Bramble. "He's got
his head on straight and I feel like a change right now wouldn't be
good for the state," Nielsen said.
Russell Carr, also a Provo delegate, gave deGaston his vote.
"I wanted to see a primary runoff to let the voters decide," Carr said.
Utah County GOP results
* Senate District 16:
Bramble (i) 119 votes - 67 percent
deGaston 51
O'Neal 5
* House District 56:
Sumsion (i) 123 - 96 percent
Sepulveda 4
* House District 57:
Craig Frank (i) 68 - 68 percent
Kim Robinson 32
* House District 60:
Brad Daw (i) 52 - 60.4 percent
Linda Housekeeper 34
* House District 61:
Keith Grover (i) 57 - 60 percent
Lisa Shepherd 37
* House District 62:
Chris Herrod (i) 60 - 66 percent
David Starling 30
* House District 58:
Paul Newton 37
Steve Sandstrom (i) 64 - 63 percent
*House District 65:
Francis Gibson 70 - 60.8 percent
Aaron Tilton (i) 45
* House District 66:
Michael Morley (i) 71 - 82 percent
Chance Williams 15

Community activist Luz Robles defeated state Sen. Fred Fife in his
bid for re-election in west Salt Lake City.
Robles captured 74 percent of the delegate vote at Saturday's Salt
Lake County Democratic Convention to secure the party's nomination.
The District 1 area includes the neighborhoods of Rose Park, Glendale
and Poplar Grove and is a Democratic stronghold.
"I'm looking forward to bringing more energy to the district,"
Robles told a room of screaming delegates after her win was announced.
Fife thanked people from his district for letting him serve them,
and told Robles the fight against the Republican nominee, Salt Lake
City Councilman Carlton Christensen, could be tough.
"You'll have to work hard to beat your Republican opponent," he
said. "But I'm here to help you."
Fife has served just one term in the Senate. Before that he served
several years in the Utah House.
Robles is former director of the state's Ethnic Affairs Office.
She has been knocking on doors in a grass-roots campaign for months.
She already has a meeting planned for Monday to begin to register
voters in her district.
"It's been great to see the response," she said. "Truly, people
are just hungry for change."
The Senate race was the only one in Salt Lake County with a
Democratic incumbent challenged within the party.
However, six other races were contested.
In Magna's District 22, Sue Duckworth won the nomination with more
than 60 percent of the vote, so she will run to replace her husband,
incumbent Rep. Carl Duckworth, who is battling a rare form of bone
marrow cancer.
"There's a lot of love in this room," Sue Duckworth said as
delegates and family members congratulated her. She faces
Constitutional Party candidate Thomas Mangum, but no Republican
challenger because Deena Ely dropped out of the race earlier this
Delegates also elected a new county party chairman. As expected,
Weston Clark was picked to replace Christian Burridge, who resigned a
few days ago.
Contested seat winners:
* Senate District 1: Luz Robles
* Senate District 6: Cora Jckowski
* House District 24: Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck
* House District 41: Fred Ash
* House District 46: Marie Poulson
* House District 47: Jennifer Burley Wolfe


Rolly: Can you believe that conniving clique of Republicans from Utah County?
Paul Rolly
Article Last Updated: 04/26/2008 10:47:38 AM MDT

Because some sections of the Sunday Salt Lake Tribune are printed
early, this column is being written prior to Saturday's Utah County
Republican Convention. But no matter, because whatever happens there,
Utah County, whose right-wing representatives enjoy the most influence
in the Utah Legislature, is about to blow its political lid.
This is a story about the power brokers in Utah County, including
both legislators and their favorite lobbyists, desperately trying to
hold the grip they've clamped on the Legislature, while a growing
number of restless Republicans are rebelling against this cozy clique
of the ethically challenged.
It's also about how the county's GOP leaders and their legislative
co-conspirators manipulated the makeup of the convention's list of
delegates. It's about alleged rule-breaking by county party officials
to vault the incumbents over their upstart Republican challengers. And
it's about threats and intimidation by these lawmakers and lobbyists
who are scrambling, hand-in-hand, to stay atop the heap on Capitol
When Jacqueline deGaston filed to run against Senate Majority
Leader Curtis Bramble of Provo, she was told directly and indirectly
to butt out of the race. One precinct officer, who asked to remain
anonymous for fear of retaliation, says he was urged to block the
candidacy of a woman running to be a delegate in his precinct because
of suspicions that she supported deGaston. He refused, and the woman
was elected.
At first, deGaston was denied a list of the names of all the
county delegates because Senate President John Valentine, Bramble's
buddy from Orem, supposedly misconstrued party rules. When the mistake
was pointed out, deGaston was given the list.
But questions linger about the way "automatic" delegates are
chosen. DeGaston and others claim that county GOP chair Marian
Monnahan, state Republican Chairman Stan Lockhart and his wife, Rep.
Becky Lockhart; Bramble and his wife, Susan; and Valentine, are
violating the state party's constitution by the way they appoint
delegates not elected in their precincts.
A former Republican legislator, a friend of deGaston, received a
letter with the name of Jeff Rogers on the envelope threatening to
expose the fact that deGaston, an attorney, was suspended by the State
Bar for three months in 2000 for allegedly trying to get a court clerk
to bend the rules on dating a document submitted to the court. She
denies any wrongdoing but says her enemies were so persistent she
finally agreed to the minimal suspension so she could get on with her
The letter to the former lawmaker said that would be the issue in the race.
Jeff Rogers is the son of lobbyist Paul Rogers, who last year took
vacation in Italy with the Brambles and the Lockharts, and who
organized a recent fund-raiser for the so-called "Fabulous Five," a
group of one-term Republican legislators - four of whom are from Utah
County and have Republican challengers. The invitation to the "Fab
Five" fund-raiser was sent by the Utah Republican Party, headed by -
who else? - Stan Lockhart.
Linda Housekeeper, who is challenging Rep. Brad Daw in Orem, was
told by the legislative district chair that at least two replacement
delegates appointed by the precinct chairs wouldn't get credentials
because their names were submitted too late. Those delegates supported
Housekeeper, who was informed Wednesday that still another "automatic"
delegate appointed by party leaders would be added to the list in her
That was quite enough for Nancy Lord, the Republican national
committeewoman from Utah, who said many of the shenanigans being
pulled by Utah County party leaders violate the state GOP
constitution. But, see, the convention rules chairman is Utah County
Commissioner Steve White, who also buzzed off to Italy with the
Brambles, the Lockharts and the Rogerses.
One for all, all for one, at home and abroad, it's quite the
clique. And the rest of you can just get lost.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My first political convention and a few first-person tidbits of interest

“Wow!” was the first thought I had as I approached Orem High on foot after parking a block away. I wish that I had brought my camera. There were hundreds of signs covering every available inch of lawn and fence space. David Leavitt made an extra special effort to completely cover the school’s lawn as well as the fence of the neighboring house (assumably with permission). I really hadn’t understood what a spectacle the convention would be. Very interesting. I grabbed a donut and milk from one of the 3rd district candidate tables out front, had the doors held open for me by young men wearing Leavitt stickers, politely refused a Bramble ID badge lanyard, and then got my ID and info packet from the sign-in table.

It was crowded and interesting. I ran into two old BYU friends. They were both first-time delegates also, but even greener than I was last Fall in terms of political awareness. One found out I was now a teacher as I expressed my disagreements with the Parents for Choice in Education booth nearby. She immediately said “Oh. Then I’m against you. I teach at a charter school.” This surprised and saddened me. I think there are funding issues with charter vs. public schools as well, but I’m not opposed to them and vouchers would rob both. I told her why I was surprised and that I thought the problem was more about elements of the legislature setting us against each other over funding. We both recounted stories of funding snafus when students switch back and forth between the two mid-year. We didn’t have time to get into a good discussion on voucher funding, but we parted each more informed I think. She was frustrated that her charter school in Lehi has trouble filling its spots despite the overcrowding in local schools right now as they wait for the new jr. high and high school to be finished in Saratoga Springs. She said many didn’t like the dress code and other rules. I was surprised that those would be such obstacles in northern Utah County and that any charter school there had open spots.

The Senate Caucus was relatively uneventful as Senator Dayton is not up for re-election. Senator Dayton and other elected officials about broke their arms patting each other on the back, except for Representative Fowlke who stood ignored with a strained look on her face as Rep’s Daw and Grover got to take the microphone and talk about their accomplishments. Lt. Governor Herbert openly joked about running for governor during his spiel.

Lt. Gov. Herbert took one question and Sen. Dayton took a few. The first was a request to explain the I.B. program issues from the session. Sen. Dayton segued into her opposition to NCLB for awhile, but eventually came back to the same bologna she believes from her Eagle Forum sources. She acknowledged some of the positives of the courses which she cannot avoid now, but claimed that the classes are accountable to the U.N rather than local and state school board “if you look at the flowchart.” Here’s the interesting bit: she is preparing a bill for the ’09 session that will require parents to sign an “opt-in” release form for International Baccalaureate saying something to the effect that you are giving up your right to be governed by the school board. C’mon. I really have trouble understanding how intelligent adults believe all this stuff. The IB Board certifies if the IB classes meet the standard to receive their “credits” or stamp of approval. This is independent of the local school boards, but doesn’t take away their “sovereignty.” If the Iowa company decided that a batch of 11th grade Iowa tests from Utah were inappropriately proctored or something, they could rightly refuse to accept those tests as valid for their national data comparisons. This would certainly influence how the state viewed it, but the state would be perfectly able to count the test for their own purposes if they saw fit. These evil U.N. classes from International Baccalaureate are 100% under the jurisdiction of the school boards Senator. They have 100% freedom at the local level to choose curriculum, management, or anything they want. If they don’t follow certain standards of rigor and content required for I.B. certification, then they lose the right to receive a certificate and put a fancy name on their resume. That’s it. Utah would still be free to count those classes for credit, count the students, test the students, discipline them, etc. No one has to fly to Geneva or submit to the North American Union. An “opt-in” bill over a program that has parents clamoring to get in will just look even sillier than Senators Dayton, Stephenson, and Peterson already have.

The House Caucus was very interesting as things got a bit chippy, motions were ruled out-of-order, and Brad Daw avoided a primary by a single vote. This was a major surprise as I think almost no one gave Linda Houskeeper a chance here. I want to write about this separately, so I’ll come back to it.

The convention itself was interesting and fairly fast moving. I was very thankful for the strict time procedures on all of the candidate speeches. The “Reagan Award” was given to Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson. I mentioned to my friend that I was very surprised by this, but I don’t think I was any more surprised than he was. Thompson didn’t expect the award, mentioned how surprised he was to receive it after the long lines at the Western States Primary Election, and thanked everyone for their forgiveness. It was kind of sweet and kind of weird.

The state office holders spoke. Chris Cannon got a little animated and inadvertently occasioned a funny moment. He said he supported Mitt Romney as the vice presidential pick and told the crowd that he wanted to hear from them if they agreed. In response, he got a quick, but hearty cheer. He then rhetorically asked if any one was opposed and received another fairly loud cheer. Hesitation, nonplussed look, and reply, “Ooooh, I guess there’s some of you.”

The candidate speeches were more varied, had more personality, and were more interesting. First, the Second Congressional District candidates spoke. My first ever attempt at a political joke for a National Junior Honors Society speech in middle school was about Merrill Cook (It was something about his being like the energizer Bunny—going and going—and my best friend and I thought it was hilarious. My mother vetoed the idea upon perusal of the final draft and instead supplied a Dan Quayle joke that was very successful), so I was happy to see him in person for I think the first time in my life. Kenneth Gray explained that we have three centuries worth of oil at $15 dollars a barrel in the shale of Eastern Utah. (Cannon claimed a comparatively pricy $20-$30 a barrel for shale oil.) And I am curious if the gregarious Don Ferguson running for the Second Congressional District is related to Joe N.P.C. Ferguson running for the Third Congressional District.

The Third Congressional District candidates were generally much more issues oriented and bashed the incumbent Republican congressmen more as opposed to the Second District guys who bashed Matheson and the Democratic majority. Joe Ferguson had an informative poster for his N.A.U. warning. I was sitting with another teacher whom I frequently agree with, but he is much more worried about the possibility of the N.A.U. than I am. He bought one of Ferguson’s DVD’s for 5 bucks to see what he has to say. I want to borrow it if I get the time.

Chuck Smith, running for the Republican nomination for governor against Jon Huntsman, started out pretty typically by explaining that “more efficient” government was an oxymoron. He then proceeded to tell us that he had spent the last 8 years devising a plan for less government to “take education out of tax funds altogether” or something like that, which I assume means privatization. We can check his website or literature for full details.

The State Treasurer candidates argued over who could survive longer in the desert with only a protractor and an abacus, and then results were announced. There will be no Republican primaries this year, which I assume is exactly what the party leadership wanted, minus the part about Rep. Tilton’s opponent winning 60% of the vote and securing the nomination. Rep’s Daw and Grover had 60.4% and 60.6% percent of their delegates’ votes respectively. Only 2 of 7 winners in contested legislative races garnered more than 68% of the vote. More on this tomorrow…

Saturday, April 12, 2008

All the Utah County Republican incumbent protection stuff…blah!

OK, I stayed out of political parties for a long time because I wanted to stay out of all of the inter-party silliness. I was more interested in statewide ethics reform such as prohibiting politicians from using campaign donations for personal use, a gift ban or at least full disclosure, and term limits. These issues are independent of political party and the majority of Utahns from all affiliations support them, with the possible exception of term limits. I recently became a Republican county delegate from my precinct and as such am now indirectly involved in some of the infighting. This will be my quick summary and opinion, with a lot of links to Kip Meacham’s Orem Precinct 27 blog that sums up a lot of the issues very well. I am not in that precinct, but I appreciate his efforts at informing his precinct and working towards fairness and transparency in the countywide elections.

The first problem was the “Fabulous Five” mailing on behalf of some incumbent Republicans. Party leaders say it was an “oversight” and just a late mailing. Bologna guys. You absolutely knew that the mailing at the very least appeared to endorse those candidates and what day it was being mailed. It just makes young party members angry when you break your own rules on not favoring one Republican candidate over another. Especially when the text reads in part:

This year, The Fabulous five will be at the forefront of a battle to retain their seats from others whose agendas call for more government intrusion, higher taxes, and restricted freedoms.

It doesn’t say protect the seat from Democrats or Libertarians, it lumps the Republican challengers, often more moderate than the party inner-circle, along with the evil liberal bogeymen.

The second sad political maneuver was the ridiculous new email policy (Which consists of collecting email addresses and...not allowing people to send emails.) to help the incumbents who already have mailing lists and lots of money saved up for expensive mailings. I first read about this in the Tribune’s Out of Context blog, but Kip Meacham explains everything in more detail and has links to various blogs that also wrote about the controversy. Meacham revealed the hypocrisy in the 11th hour attempt to freeze out challengers when he talked about the training he received in getting everyone’s email address. He continues the discussion here and here.

Chris Cannon sent out an email with in days that all of the county and state delegates received. The party and Cannon claim the emails came from old lists and other legitimate means, but I am proof this is false. I have never previously held any party office or been on any party mailing list and I got Cannon’s email. Admitting the mistake would make me feel a lot better than lying about it.

I was asked for my address and gave it because I wanted to be contacted by the candidates with information so I could fulfill my responsibilities as a delegate. Putting my email was optional; some caucus attendees chose not to put theirs down on the roll. I believe everyone who wrote down their email did so in the expectation that they would be contacted with relevant information. If some candidate chose to spam me, I would take that into account in my voting and could make an individual complaint to the party if I wanted.

I did not give my email address so the party could control access to it and monitor when and how many emails I opened. (Thank you Kip Meacham for researching this!! I haven’t actually seen this system or gotten the multi-candidate emails that Meacham has published in his blog. Is that because our precinct is small or only chairs get the emails?)

Republican County leadership, please step outside yourselves and try to see how this looks from those who aren’t as intimately involved with the inner-workings of the party. It reeks of gamesmanship and favoritism to avoid transparency and the will of the people. The excuses are not convincing except to those who already want to be convinced. I don’t think this is really a partisan issue either, as Democrats do the same in other states. Power corrupts and tends to cause myopic vision. So why not strive to be something different? A party that on a county or state level (I have no faith in either party ever being morally transparent—or maybe moral in general—on a national level…) strives for complete transparency and fairplay. If every candidate, delegate, and party member knew there was a level playing field, it would attract more of the huge number of Utah County residents disillusioned with party power politics. If you allowed access by those candidates who hold views that differ in some respects from the Brambles and the Lockhearts and still win, you have a more legitimate claim to the people’s approval. If more moderate candidates make some inroads (Keith Grover claims his voters fear this [See his answer to the second question]; I would say he fears it. Why not find out the truth?), doesn’t allowing the will of those voters to be heard show your faith in the Constitutional principles you fervently proclaim? Putting up barriers to those who disagree with you, regardless of the will of the people, is not good government.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

True Class Sizes and Utah’s Writing Scores

The article earlier today on Utah’s continued status as the state spending the least per student used a common statistic. This is a statistic that every citizen, educator, and legislator with any experience in our schools knows to be false, but is still frequently cited both by education and legislative leaders.

Still, he said, Utah faces the challenge of the nation's largest student to teacher ratio: 22.6 students per teacher. And that impacts retention.

"We have about seven more students per teacher than the national average," he said. "It makes us very economically efficient. ... It also tends to stress the system."

If we are even coming close to those class sizes, it would only be in the lower elementary grades. I am admittedly not very familiar with our elementary schools as our daughter is not yet 5, but I understand that even Kindergarten classes rarely hit that ratio. The true statistic for secondary classes would read something like:

Utah faces the challenge of the nation's largest secondary student to teacher ratio: 30 or 40 students per “core” teacher (math, science, English), and 35 to 40+ for “non-core” teachers. And that has an enormous impact on every single aspect of teaching, from planning to classroom behavior to one-on-one opportunities to grading. That additional workload and stress causes too many teachers to burnout and quit.

"In our public fairytale where we count counselors, speech pathologists, media specialists, and other necessary, but non-classroom personnel as counting towards class size, we have about seven more students per teacher than the national average figured from numbers the other states presumably lie about too. So that’s OK," he said. "It makes us very, very, very economically efficient. ... It also tends to cause a teeny-weeny bit of stress to the system when teachers provide for 200+ students. (And don’t even ask about teacher ratios at Willowcreek Junior High in Lehi or other schools in growth areas waiting for new buildings to be finished.)"

The public and legislative debate on education needs to be based on facts. True class sizes need to be admitted and discussed, by education officials as well as legislators. Are those sizes acceptable? What are the ramifications for struggling students as well as gifted students?

And those class sizes are not the result of district mismanagement or waste; growth has simply outstripped the legislature’s ability or will to fund class size reduction.

Also, the Tribune published an excellent editorial (The entire text is in my previous post.) about Utah’s scores on a national writing test comparing 8th grade students. It was justly critical of the rationalizations and explanations for the poor scores. I am not personally familiar with the test (It is apparently given to random schools within each state. Another teacher told me today that it was given at our school 6 or 7 years ago.) and cannot explain what exactly the students wrote about or the scoring out of 300 points.

I agree with the Tribune’s concluding statement:

As NAEP states, "To become good writers students need expert
instruction, frequent practice and constructive feedback."
Utah students, whose score of 152 is below the national average of
154, obviously need more of that than they're getting.

And the absolute best, most effective way to achieve that goal is to reduce class size. The same results can not be achieved by any other means. Writing software, teacher aides, professional development, and other plans help and are appreciated. But they can’t be touted as lower cost alternatives to actual smaller classes. Complaining about the very real cost of more teachers, rationalizing that class room reduction is pointless if we don’t hit the magic ratio of 15 to 1, or blaming the teachers union and claiming it just wants more teachers to boost its non-existent power are silly avoidance techniques.

We may not have the resources to reduce classrooms to the ideal size and make everyone happy, but we have money being proposed and wasted on unproven pet projects. Any poll, even of Republicans, would put classroom size as a higher priority than laptops for preschoolers and tax-cuts for Delta Airlines and Skoal Tobacco. Do the right thing legislators. If we don’t have enough money for class size reduction or you want another tax cut, tell the public and make your case. Don’t falsely accuse the districts of mismanagement or spend the money on side projects. And don’t talk down to us about how we don’t really want smaller classes. Teachers, parents, and students know better.

Apr. 7, 2008 Tribune editorial on Utah 8th grade writing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress writing test

Reason for concern: Writing test scores in Utah are worrisome
Tribune Editorial
Article Last Updated: 04/07/2008 12:56:38 AM MDT

There has been much public back-slapping among Utah education
officials over the scores achieved by the state's eighth-graders on
the National Assessment of Educational Progress writing test taken
last year.
But let's take a closer look at what those scores actually show
about how well Utah's students can express themselves with pen and
It's true that the average Utah student score on this test - 152
of a possible 300 - is higher than the average score on the same test
in 1998 and 2002, which was a dismal 143.
Still, the new report indicates that only 31 percent of those
tested are "proficient" or have "solid academic performance" at the
grade level assessed. Fifty-three percent had only "basic" knowledge,
meaning they understand some of what they must know to do grade-level
work, and 16 percent are "below basic," meaning they are writing well
below grade level.
It's worse than that, however. The average score of Latino
students was 28 points below their white classmates, and male students
scored 26 points below the average for females. Average scores of
students from low-income homes were 20 points below their peers.
These alarming gaps did not narrow over the decade since the 1998
test was administered.
The NAEP Web site explains the "proficient" designation: "Students
reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging
subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of
such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills."
It seems to us that when 69 percent of Utah's eighth-graders are
not proficient in writing at grade level, the education community
should be looking at ways to improve how writing is taught, especially
to minority, male and low-income students. Instead, some education
officials were celebrating the higher average score and even crediting
students' addiction to text-messaging for the improvement.
"Any writing is better than no writing," one middle school teacher
said. All we can say to that is: Huh?
"Any writing" is hardly what students should be learning, and the
free-form, shorthand, slang-ridden language of text-messaging can only
be considered communication in the loosest sense.
As NAEP states, "To become good writers students need expert
instruction, frequent practice and constructive feedback."
Utah students, whose score of 152 is below the national average of
154, obviously need more of that than they're getting

Monday, April 7, 2008

Gifted education, the "right" kind of education, and innovation in public schools

First, my bracket is shot. I joined most of the country as a Memphis non-believer and am now impressed. I was also impressed by Kansas stomping North Carolina. I had NC vs. Texas in my final. (I started this before the game, but Kansas just pulled out an overtime win.)

More to the point…Good people disagree about education. Education is not simple. Anyone who tells you they have “simple” methods that universally work is trying to sell you expensive textbooks or was fooled by someone who is. It’s a lot like parenting—there are certain important principles generally agreed on…but even which principles those are tend to be a little different depending on who you talk to. I know certain things that work with my children, but when I’m tending relatives or neighbors, they often don’t. Some of those may be because of different temperaments and abilities, and many are because of different parenting styles and practices. I definitely see things that other parents do that I disagree with and find frustrating. I’m fairly sure some of my opinions are correct. I’ve also learned some humility as my two children grow and I see how differently they behave and respond to things, even within the same family and with the same habits and rules. Outside of certain very commonly accepted bounds, it would be rude for me to angrily demand that my friends parent the way I do, even if it would make my life so much easier. Some principles are absolute, but different people have different personalities, different ways of communicating, and different priorities.

There are legitimate improvements that can be made in teaching practice. But how many of these improvements are agreed on by education “experts,” or by students and families? One person’s “tried and true” method is another’s “outdated rote memorization.” One teacher’s “discovery unit” for independent research is then derided as “fluff based on self-esteem with no fundamentals.” How much of a body of basic knowledge do we expect elementary and secondary students to “know?” (And does “know” just mean to remember the fact, date or formula, be able to find the best multiple-choice answer using the knowledge, or an actual ability to apply the knowledge?) vs. How much critical thinking, evaluation, and learning how to find your own answers do we practice at the cost of covering more information? In other words, breadth vs. depth in a given timeframe. I have had parents demand both more and less homework for their students and read articles decrying both extremes as one of the causes of the “education crisis.” Parents also express opposing opinions on how much grammar and drill I should include in class. In the comments below an article today on education funding (more on this in another post), different persons derided the UEA or the “establishment” for both resisting smaller school districts and for resisting supposedly more cost-effective school district consolidation. How important are class size, technology, and “values” in the classroom? Who decides?

Most educational decisions and mandates, both those made with an inclusive process and in good faith (A generally applicable example being classroom reduction money) and those mandated top-down from a relatively small group with little cooperation or buy-in (Investigations Math in Alpine District, vouchers), will be roundly criticized from some quarter. Here is an example from Provo District about an issue that can be very polarizing: gifted education. The two short articles describe the school board first considering, and then approving a separate magnet school for gifted students. Read the opinions in the articles and in the comments—there aren’t an overwhelming number of comments like in the previous article.,5143,695264138,00.html,5143,695264718,00.html

Good people disagree on the general and specific principles. Are special programs for gifted students discriminatory favoritism or a form of “segregation” as one commenter opines? The counter-argument declares that those students have just as pressing of individual needs as special ed. kids and have the right to learn on their own level. The best and brightest should not be held back from great achievement. Beyond that, if you support programs for gifted kids, what is the correct way to administer that program? Can you meet both their academic and social needs in a separate class or school, or is a variation of the normal school program better? Does a special program stigmatize gifted students or under-prepare them to work with all types of people in the real world?

My opinions have evolved over time. I experienced some different forms of gifted education as a child, and I have worked with both gifted classes and special needs students as a teacher. Some of my educational beliefs from my own experience have not held up as universally applicable in the face of the incredible variety of students I teach. I won’t go into specifics right now as that’s not my focus. The point is that everyone who doesn’t believe the same as you about the “right” way to educate gifted individuals is not ignorant or mean. Their views are shaped by their own experiences and those of family or friends. In all probability, they want the best education possible for their own children and for Utah’s students in general. The same reality applies to most other educational programs and theories as well. A balance between inclusive vacillation and bull-headed determination to do it “my way” has to be found, and there will automatically be opposing viewpoints.

Therefore, there are no “easy” answers.

And unlike many rightwing commenters, both nationally and locally, I see the bull-headedness mostly from public education critics rather than the “education establishment.” Even with No Child Left Behind, standardized testing, and other conformist influences, teachers still practice a huge variety of teaching styles and methods. The individual personalities of the teacher and the students play a huge role in classroom activities, discipline, and atmosphere. Teachers generally appreciate the differences and love to bounce ideas off each other when they find time to do so. I have strengths and weaknesses as a professional and love to work with the other teachers in my department and school. Within some basic parameters, change and innovation are encouraged and admired. And, just like any profession, teachers themselves don’t always agree which also leads to an increased variety of methods.

I have improved by incorporating practices in my classroom from local and national sources. Do I end up hitting every possible individual sweetspot? I’m sure I don’t…BUT, I am also certain I have improved my methods and skills each year and reached a higher and higher percentage of learning styles and individuals in my class each year. Are there teachers stuck in ruts or that don’t care? Of course. But mandating your particular vision of what the curriculum or methods should be will not eliminate this problem from a public, charter, or private school.

It is the vocal proponents of particular programs or methodologies that insist the public schools are “doing it wrong” and that all students would learn if only the school would adopt their favored plan. They usually believe in a solid program with benefits, but in my perception, ignore all the students who don’t fit their vision. They accuse the public schools of being too uniform if their proposals are not implemented when a public school in fact allows more diversity of practice than most individual private schools. (Private schools are great by the way—the point is that they are often driven by a singular vision or theory that can’t always provide for all students.)

Public schools are often criticized both for being too monolithic and narrowly-focused on one hand, while on the other being attacked for using too many diverse methodologies that a specific commentator disagrees with. You can’t have it both ways. Utah public schools do struggle to meet each need of hundreds of thousands of diverse students, but individual teachers, as well as schools and districts, are always experimenting, observing, and improving.

This is not an “excuse” or an argument against improvement. It is a reality check about supposed ”silver bullets” that don’t exist and the diversity of public opinion on education, even within members of the same neighborhoods, political parties, or religions.