Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Results in State School Board District 13 and double-disenfranchisement shenanigans?

First, I was wrong in my prediction that vote totals for State School Board District 13 would be significantly lower than the 2004 election. The unofficial results (pg. 3, lefthand column) show just a few hundred fewer votes than the race in 2004. Kyle Bateman defeated C. Mark Openshaw with 17,509 votes. I hope the almost 300 votes not for either candidate on the ballot were mostly write-ins for A. LeGrand Richards, the highly-qualified BYU professor excluded from the ballot.

However, my frustration with the apathy and lack of communication demonstrated by Bateman and Openshaw, as well as the entire school board candidate selection process, has been confirmed by subsequent events. In a minor, but indicative Election Night note of the silly process that allowed seven businessmen not living in District 13 to choose our candidates, Openshaw confirmed my suspicions that the candidates represented the same viewpoints: "I know Kyle well," he said. "I like him. We agree on many things, and so I give him my full support." And in keeping with the theme of his successful campaign, it appears that Bateman was the only victorious candidate in Utah County who did not return the Daily Herald's phone call after winning election on November 4th.

But the Tribune yesterday revealed that the situation has become even more sneaky and non-representative.
Bateman said he has two homes -- one in his district in Provo and one that his company bought as an investment outside his district in Mapleton. He said he intended to live in the Mapleton home for a time and sell it eventually while keeping the Provo home as his primary residence.

In his letter, however, he said he sought private counsel, who recently told him the law "would not likely support" that arrangement.
So he was going to move out of the district he was elected to represent to "eventually" return to his "primary residence" as soon as he was able to profitably flip that investment home in today's market, and he honestly thought that was no problem? I personally have trouble giving credence to the assertions that Bateman: A. sincerely believed that his living arrangement would meet state requirements and B. that this belief was "recently" disabused by private counsel so he could conveniently withdraw on the last possible day. If he cared about serving, why couldn't Bateman stay in his Provo home that is ostensibly his primary residence? He is apparently financially secure enough to own two houses, so living in the Mapleton house is a personal preference rather than a necessity in order to sell it. I also have trouble believing that Openshaw did not know this was coming.

So voters in my district were subjected to a political farce on two levels. First, they were arbitrarily denied the opportunity to have the most qualified candidate, A. LeGrand Richards, on the ballot, and second, the two candidates chosen to be on the ballot refused to campaign...literally. Neither Bateman nor Openshaw spent one penny on their campaign beyond the $15 filing fee. They didn't return phone calls and emails from organizations asking their positions and even voters in their district.

They expect us to believe that they somehow knew, independently, that they wouldn't need to spend any money or even respond to questions to win an open State School Board seat? They just assumed the other guy wouldn't campaign either in a year when increased scrutiny has been paid the board because of the voucher dispute and the faulty selection process? They "would love to have served," but put forth no effort to campaign in a district where the winner in 2004, Tom Gregory, spent $300 dollars of his own money to buy signs? The district was important enough to local politicians in 2004 that the defeated candidate, Brian Woodfield, raised over $1000 for flyers and signs from Becky Lockhart, Curtis Bramble, and Micron (i.e. Stan Lockhart), and the voters are supposed to believe that those political interests just went away? Bateman has close associations with PCE through his position on the Children First Utah advisory board, and they didn't donate money to a candidate in need? (I don't know if the PIC Development that Bateman was chair of is this PIC Development based in Orem Utah, but the lack of specifics and "Board of Sages" sound vaguely Koerberian. And Bateman's house flipping "investment" that is more important than the election he just won seems vaguely similar to "equity milling"... I bring that up because PIC Development is still the job listed on the CFU website and he is now president of Action Target, Inc. (I think that's him in the middle of the top picture) and holder of several shooting equipment related patents...which then makes absolutely no sense as to why he would be forced to live in the Mapleton house "his company bought as an investment.")

So a lot of things don't add up here. Why would two apparently competent and successful businessmen, both in high CEO/President positions, run apathetic, careless campaigns that actually alienated any of their constituents that did any research? How could they not post one sign, deliver one flyer, walk one neighborhood, or even answer an email inquiry? They could not have become successful in business if this was their normal persona. (Openshaw's company actually specializes in facilitating communication!) How could they have honestly thought they had a chance to win the election with such a campaign if they didn't know that their "opponent" was going to do the same thing?

Furthermore, why would Bateman's shooting supply company even be involved in real estate flipping and why would that force Bateman to move to Mapleton? How long has Bateman known he would be moving? Why did Bateman continue running at that point? He is the president of the company and just won election to state office--does anyone believe he could not stay in Provo if serving on the school board were important to him? How big and how nice is the "company" house in Mapleton that the company president is going to live in "for a time" that Bateman values the move more than the public service he ostensibly sought? Why wait until the last day of vote certification to make that decision public? Why move your family at all if you're just going to sell the house anytime in the near future?

I don't believe either Bateman or Openshaw is that clueless. I think the circumstances point to exactly what current State School Board Member, Kim Burningham, and excluded candidate, A. LeGrand Richards decried in the Tribune article...a willful collusion to ensure neither candidate had to face Richards on the ballot. The initial faulty process gave us two candidates with similar views, eliminating a choice for the district's voters. Bateman planned to move to Mapleton, whether before or after he signed his oath that he met residency requirements upon filing for candidacy on March 17th, I don't know. (Though I think that ownership of a home in Mapleton by either Action Target or Kyle Bateman and the date purchased would be part of public tax records...) Bateman knew that the next highest choice of the selection committee, A. LeGrand Richards, who differs philosophically from Bateman and Openshaw, would be put on the ballot if he dropped out--this was confirmed as the public education choice in District 11, Ralph Haws, who also finished third in committee rankings behind two voucher supporters, almost replaced Ted Heap on the ballot over a finance reporting mix-up. There was contact between Bateman and Openshaw in order to communicate the plan, i.e. that Bateman would remain on the ballot and that neither needed to waste any time or money campaigning since the result was a foregone conclusion.

This is admittedly conjecture, but I don't know how else you can spin the actions of these two intelligent men. I would love to hear their explanation for their non-campaigns, their non-responsiveness, and how much they honestly communicated before, during, and after the election. I don't think a run-off election would be allowed or cost efficient, but a run-off between Openshaw and Richards would be the best way to allow District 13 voters a real choice of representation on the State School Board. Are there any provisions for something besides appointment if extenuating circumstances are found to exist...such as a candidate willfully misrepresenting his intention to abide by residency requirements of the office?


Anonymous said...

Very provocative raising some important questions.

Tom said...

1. I still have quite a few signs, if anyone is interested. :) Lest my campaigning skill be overestimated, I believe to this day that I won primarily because my name was first on the ballot. (One might think that in an era of electronic voting machines, ballot order could be randomly determined for each voter and this effect could be negated.)

2. Based on a personal conversation with Mr. Bateman, I suspect--but didn't confirm outright--that the move to Mapleton occurred after the committee/Governor selection process was completed. This suggests to me the behavior might not have been premeditated.

3. I can't find anything in statute that suggests the Lt. Gov's procedure is proper. Their argument hinges on the interpretation of "candidate" in the Utah code, and what I've read doesn't support their conclusion that the state of candidacy continues after the date of the general election. Still, the Lt. Gov's office is granted broad latitude in interpreting statute, even if they do it poorly. This could only be challenged in court, and the suit would likely go nowhere. (See next point.)

4. This is entirely speculation on my part, but even if the Governor had appointed the next member, it likely would have still been Openshaw, as any other choice would suggest he had chosen poorly which candidates should proceed to the ballot, and thus result in a "loss of face." It is primarily for this reason I believe any action to challenge the Lt. Gov's decision would be moot. (Although I firmly believe the same decision would not be made in a high-profile partisan race.)

Either way, I don't know enough of either Mr. Bateman or Mr. Openshaw to form an opinion of their character or ability, although I suggest all citizens pause before ascribing unethical behavior to any person. Let's give them both the benefit of the doubt. (If you need a selfish reason, consider that such a gesture of kindness will make it easier to work with your representative in the future.)