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Friday, October 22, 2010
I Met the Candidates in American Fork

Here are some words I don't say every decade: I'm voting for a Democrat. NEW: Listen to an audio podcast of this post.

Here are some notes -- perhaps fewer than usual -- on last evening's meet-the-candidates event in American Fork. It featured two Alpine School Board candidates and four Utah County Commission candidates. It was hosted by Shelley Elementary School, organized by the American Fork Youth City Council, "refreshed" by the local Fresh Market, and ably moderated by American Fork City Councilor Shirl LeBaron. About 55 people attended, not counting candidates and organizers. I was disappointed that half the seats were empty, but one of the county commission candidates observed that they've done several such events lately, and this was the best attended of all. I'm not sure whether that's more disappointing, or less, or just something he says wherever he goes.

It appeared that the school board race brought out most of the audience. There was a sizeable contingent which seemed to be there for the purpose of clapping enthusiastically for whatever John Burton said; he's Tim Osborn's challenger. Some of these were there 35 minutes early, writing their questions on three-by-five cards and putting them in the pile. I actually expected more of them to be there. A few weeks ago, a local teacher's union official sent out a call for union members to attend. Otherwise, he feared that the event would not be "fair and equitable," which is passing strange.

There was a smaller -- or at least somewhat quieter -- group which seemed determined to applaud almost everything Osborn said. I say "almost" in part because he once flustered them -- and Burton, too -- by saying, when asked, that he likes No Child Left Behind. He later told me he was being sarcastic, but it didn't come off -- and he was right about that. It was interesting to watch, though.

Besides the partisans, I talked to several people who had not already firmly decided which candidates to support. Their opinions and thoughts about the evening interested me most -- well, second to my own thoughts, at least.

School Board: Tim Osborn (incumbent) vs. John Burton

You'll want to weigh my remarks on this race against the fact that I am working on the Osborn campaign. That said, neither of these candidates won or lost the race last night. There were no knockouts and few if any slam dunks, if you'll pardon my mixed metaphors.

John Burton was polished and articulate, emphasizing his vast -- and very real -- experience inside the district, where he was a teacher before embarking on a long and distinguished career as an administrator. In the context of answering a question about how he differs from his opponent, he emphasized his ability to get along with everyone and bring people together. In his opening statement, he said that he is running to "give back," particularly because of the way the whole community rallied around his family and his young son years ago, when his son was very seriously ill and needed uncommonly expensive medical treatment. It's a good reason to run and a fine story, and he told it well, without overdoing it.

At the end of the evening, some people were still concerned or even angry over something Burton said that bears directly on the proper role of an elected official. I'm sorry to bait you by mentioning it here but not explaining it yet, but I need to think about this one some more, and it's probably too complex to describe in this post anyway. I'm sure I'll write about it soon.

Ordinarily, I would have a little fun with Burton's own insistence that he is an honorable man -- which he is and is widely known to be -- but in the context of some false and hostile and really ridiculous things which third parties have been saying about him, I think we have to give him a pass on that one. He didn't seem to want to blow his own horn in that way, and I was glad for that, but under the circumstances it was probably the right thing to do. We must allow an honorable man to defend his honor when slandered, I think.

Overall, Burton didn't say much that you cannot find at his campaign Web site, which is hard to find, so here's a link. It's recommended reading.

Tim Osborn is not glib or especially articulate, though I find him intelligent, kind, and quite passionate about the students, teachers, and schools. He didn't smile enough during the event, though he smiled plenty when it was over. Knowing his views well, and knowing his campaign from the inside, I thought he missed a good opportunity or two to score some points, but in some other cases his responses were effective. He emphasized his role in winning for elementary schools the right to choose their own math curriculum, in consultation with the parents, rather than having the district's pet program enforced upon them. And when all the candidates were asked about a time when they had to act against the interests of a friend, he told of finding a way to install a particular part on a Boeing 747 in minutes instead of days -- which saved a lot of money but led to some of his colleagues losing their jobs, because their services were no longer required.

He added two things I hadn't heard him say in public before. One is now at his campaign blog. It is an account of something an elementary school principal in the Alpine School District recently said in Osborn's presence. At this principal's school, they send home the multiplication tables as math homework, so the parents won't realize they're using their favorite, only marginally effective curriculum, Investigations, at school. I'll let you read about it at the campaign blog. I think it's scandalous, but it's a symptom, not the disease.

The other thing Osborn added was some discussion about improving financial efficiency by exploiting new technologies in interesting ways. These include using online packets and other course work, and also gathering large virtual classes scattered across multiple locations, with a single, excellent teacher who teaches from a single location. Some of these things are already succeeding in parts of the district.

I was interested to hear later from some of the people who attended, who were not already firmly in one camp or another. They came away preferring Osborn. They thought he was a regular guy, not "one of them," by which they meant either the politicians or the educational establishment, depending on the speaker. And yet Osborn seemed to care about children, parents, taxpayers, and education generally, and he said a few things that resonated with them.

Here are links to Tim Osborn's campaign Web site and his campaign blog, which are also recommended reading.

In case you missed it, in this race I'll be voting for Tim Osborn.

Utah County Commission Seat A: Lane Henderson (D) vs. Gary Anderson (R)

An attorney by trade, Gary Anderson is the incumbent. He's a Republican, and I'm a Republican, but I must confess an irritation which has increased over the years with the way he reduces all political questions to a promise not to raise taxes. I'm not fan of excessive taxes, either, but I think this approach to politics trivializes the process and avoids discussion of some serious issues. He promised over and over again not to raise taxes, and he brushed off some complexities on the subject, . . . and I was ripe for the picking. Did I mention he won't raise taxes? Ever? For anything?

I found Anderson's opponent, Lane Henderson, to be intelligent, articulate, and, as far as I could judge his views, a Democrat in name only (DINO?). Afterward, he told me that he's really a Republican at heart. I guess that's why he didn't seem enamored of large government and didn't seem to have outsized ideas of what government could or should do. He thinks the county commissioners should be elected from three districts, instead of at large, in the interest of better representation, and I'm on board with that. And, though he claimed fondness for fiscal sanity and for low taxes, he didn't say 73 times in 90 minutes that he would never raise taxes for anything ever. (To be fair, I should say that Anderson didn't say it 73 times either. It just felt like he did. It was probably only 25 or 30, because the other candidates had turns to talk, too.)

Henderson seems sensible. He's a businessman and the former mayor of Salem. I'll leave you to examine his Web site at your leisure.

I'm tentatively planning to vote for Henderson, but I'll study him a little more, if I have time. It's not every decade I vote for a Democrat, so I want to make sure I get it right.

Anderson's Web site is here.

Utah County Commission Seat B: Doug Witney (R) vs. Ted Barratt (D)

Doug Witney ousted the incumbent at convention, so we're talking about an open seat. It's Witney, the Republican, against Ted Barratt, a Democrat and a former mayor of American Fork, whom I know fairly well, at least in the political realm. I voted for Witney at convention, after receiving some favorable recommendations from people who know him, and after chatting with him myself at some length and finding him intelligent, personable, compatible with my views, and not the least bit condescending.

All four candidates came out against an idea that has intrigued me: expanding the county commission to allow for better representation. I had earlier dismissed the argument that it's expensive to do this, because I thought better representation might be worth the additional cost, but between Lane Henderson's desire to have county commission candidates come from districts, rather than at large, and Doug Witney's thought that department heads could be used to some degree as a larger council, I'm thinking that it may not be time to expand the county commission after all.

Witney talked about his extensive administrative and law enforcement experience. Barratt touted his excellent work as mayor of American Fork. There was talk by all four candidates, actually, about the growing heroin problem in Utah County, and about substance abuse and addiction generally. None of the candidates seemed particularly disposed to fill the jails with addicts, and there was serious talk about better treatment programs.

As to Web sites, here are Witney's and Barratt's. The latter is a little light on substance, I thought, but both are worth a look before you vote.

In this race, there's nothing to lure me away from a Republican candidate I like, so far, and find intelligent. I'll be voting for Doug Witney.

Final Notes

Shirl LeBaron did a good job moderating -- even better than the audience might have realized. He told me afterward that nearly all the questions for school board candidates were one-sided attacks on one candidate or the other, but none of that came through in the questions he selected. I think he used the good questions and may have adapted some of the others.

Finally, this page at Utah County's official Web site lists e-mail addresses and other information about the six candidates discussed here and many others. I'm sure they'd be glad to hear and answer your questions personally.

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