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Tuesday, November 6, 2007
American Fork Wins. Utah Schoolchildren Lose.

Thoughts on today's election results.

American Fork

Turnout was unusually high today, for an off-year election: 45.8 percent in American Fork, and 43.2 percent in Utah County as a whole. I haven't see statewide numbers on voter turnout yet.

I predicted that American Fork City Councilor Sherry Kramer would finish in a tight race for second with another incumbent, Councilman Shirl LeBaron; that both would trail incumbent Rick Storrs; and that challenger Jason Porter would finish a distant fourth in the race for three seats. I was partly right. As things turned out, Kramer won by a nose, and Storrs edged LeBaron by about half the width of a nostril hair for second place -- if you'll forgive my extending a metaphor much too far. Here are the unofficial results, as currently reported by Utah County:

3493     Sherry Kramer (wins a seat)
3417     Rick Storrs (wins a seat)
3413     Shirl LeBaron (wins a seat)
2852     Jason Porter (gets his free time back)

These numbers will likely change a little as absentee and provisional votes are counted, but the overall result will not.

Someone else who observes such things pointed out that my prediction that Porter would get "a few hundred votes" was naive, in light of previous years' election results. In the event, he lost by 561 votes, which is by no means a small margin in American Fork. It fact, it's a pretty sound thumping, if you consider that in 2005 the first non-winner (Terry Fox) was 200 votes behind the next-highest finisher (the second winner of two, Jimmie Cates), and the second non-winner (Juel Belmont) was what felt like a distant 385 votes behind Cates.

Still, Mr. Porter's margin may be small enough that he and some of his supporters will be able to console themselves with a comforting but wholly unjustified illusion. They may decide -- erroneously -- that he was narrowly (!) defeated only because of last-minute shenanigans by an imaginary conspiracy of incumbents who dared correct his real factual error, in order to hide the facts from the people. (No, it still doesn't make logical sense to me. It does make psychological sense.)

Porter may also be encouraged enough by the results this year to run again in the future, which would be reasonable, I think. Next time, he will not be a rookie candidate . . . we may earnestly hope.

In 2005 I suggested half-seriously that "Mars needs women," in an obscure tribute to Bloom County. In light of then-challenger MFCC's first-place finish two years ago and Sherry Kramer's first place finish today, perhaps we might also say, Mars wants women. It's nice to see us getting over our deep-rooted cultural prejudice that leaders are men.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Councilman Dale Gunther, running unopposed for a vacated half-term, won with 98.6 percent of the vote. I'd be interested to know who got the 65 write-in votes.

Early Post-Voucher Thoughts

I am not surprised that Citizens' Referendum 1, the school voucher legislation, was defeated, though I held out some hope for a victory. I am very disappointed in the margin, which KSL is currently reporting as approximately 62 percent against and 38 percent for.

Here are some thoughts I'm mulling. I may not finally settle on them all . . .

  • Fighting the teachers unions and the public education bureaucracy has never been easy. They are well funded, and they are capable of mobilizing a veritable army of teachers, and, through the PTA, an even larger army of parents. And they -- by representing themselves as the public schools we almost all attended and as the handful of superb teachers who made a major difference in our lives -- have a huge emotional head start in the battle for individual voters. Regrettably, just as falsehood vanquished truth here in large measure, so the heart often outvotes the head. The former is always bad; perhaps the latter is not always bad.
  • The battle to save the public schools from themselves must not end with this. I'm not sure what the next initiative should be. Perhaps vouchers should wait another legislative term or two before reappearing, but I'd still like to see a bill and a vote next session. I note that one of two ballot initiatives involving splitting a large school district in Salt Lake County passed, and one failed -- so at least one blow was landed for public school accountability today.
  • One major supporter called this referendum a "voter IQ test," or so I heard on the radio this evening. That's not very diplomatic, but I can't say I think he was entirely wrong.
  • Direct democracy, of which the Founders were so suspicious, did not distinguish itself today. But on the happy side of things, it looks like what we always hope will be the case in our democratic republic really proved true this year, at least on this issue: our elected leaders were wiser than we voters were. At least we were smart enough to elect them.
  • I'll be watching for referendum numbers from the Alpine School District, where there is much dissatisfaction with the District's arrogance, unresponsiveness, and insistence on inferior mathematics instruction. The Utah County numbers have Referendum 1 losing by a margin of only 5.36 percent, so it's entirely possible that a majority of ASD voters voted for vouchers.
  • Voucher initiatives may actually fare better in less conservative states, where public schools are more clearly inadequate, and where an overwhelming majority of urban African-Americans favors vouchers.
  • Future voucher initiatives in Utah will face the same dilemma this year's faced: How do you teach people to reason, to read the law for themselves, and to do the math, if the public schools have not already taught them to do these things -- and when the teachers unions are actively campaigning for them not to do these things?
  • Thank heaven there is just enough school choice in American Fork that the Rodebacks don't have to sell their immortal souls to pay private school tuition in a voucherless world, in order to get their children a decent education.

Once again, I do not say that thinking, honorable people could not possibly have voted against the referendum. As recently as yesterday I offered a host of reasons why they might. But these were not the reasons that came forward in the anti-voucher campaign, so they are not likely the reasons why 62 percent of Utah voters chose to overturn the legislature's action.

One way or another, we shall have to find some way to fix the public school horse's lame leg, or someday it may have to be euthanized, and that will be most unfortunate.

Brian Rawlings comments (11/7/2007):

I was in Portland, Oregon, the night of the last presidential election. My wife looked out our hotel window in the evening and said, "Why are there so many police down there?" As you may recall, Portland had several public demonstrations against George Bush. Lots of people were marching on the streets around our hotel with picket signs that read, "Not our president. Not our war." Turns out the police were also wearing riot gear. (My wife did not appreciate my suggestions to try to get on TV.) I found the whole thing rather comical.

This morning, however, I feel some of the angst of those people -- forced to live with the a decision I do not agree with, thinking that the majority had little understanding of the issues -- or even cared what the issues were. I am in mourning.

To make things worse, it dawned on me this morning, too late, that essentially the underlying issues in splitting the Salt Lake school districts were very similar the voucher debate: citizen (read parental) control of how are tax dollars spent. East siders don't want to pay for west side school construction. It makes me very frustrated that so many people could be so for or against splitting school districts, and then turn around and vote against vouchers.

But this has been a turning point for me. Frankly, I have paid little attention to most political issues for a number of reasons. I have realized that if I want a better government, I need to participate. And participation does not mean just voting -- it means helping educate others on the issues, campaigning, and expressing my opinion. (Perhaps those are three ways to say the same thing.) I have been among the masses that vote and feel proud they have completed their civic duty. I think voting is a good step -- but it is not the first step, nor should it be the last. The first step is understanding the issues. Voting without understanding the issues or candidates is like . . . well . . . fill in your own analogy. But the point is that I have realized that I need to go beyond voting. Your blog helped make that change. Thanks for publishing your thoughts.

The second turning point is that I have realized that I need to learn about the issues early - not just making up my mind a week or two before election day. I need to learn about the issues well in advance so I am in a position to educate and persuade others. I feel like I jumped in this game much too late to make much of a difference. I was encouraged, however, that I was able to sway some votes. That helps with the desire do more the next go-round.

In your recent blog post you mention that the founding fathers were suspicious of direct democracy. I'd like to learn more about what the founding fathers had to say about it. Can you point me to any references? I think most people believe we live in a democracy, not a republic -- or at least they don't understand the difference.

Anyway, thanks again for your blog. I have been directing lots of people your way the last few weeks.

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