June 11, 2008
Salt Lake Tribune
Nobody can say with certainty that incumbent state school board members Teresa Theurer, Bill Colbert and Richard Sadler, who is also serving as board chairman, would have been re-elected had their constituents had a chance to vote on them this fall. And we will never know.
A state nominating committee failed to put Colbert and Sadler on a list it sent to Gov. Jon Huntsman. The committee gave Theurer a low score, and Huntsman did not choose her for the list of final candidates, though she has served on the board for eight years and received 64 percent of the vote in her district in 2004.
Incumbents had no better chance than first-timers seeking a seat on the Utah State Board of Education because voters are kept out of the process until the final vote in November. No matter how constituents feel about a current representative, that person may or may not make the cut under the current system.
A 12-member committee appointed by the governor pares the list of those who have filed for the office to three in each district that has an open seat. Then the governor further narrows the field to two, who are placed on the ballot.
This year 33 people filed for seven open seats, an unusually high number. Last year's referendum on private-school vouchers, which were soundly defeated, could be a factor since both sides have encouraged candidates to run who agree with them on the issue.
It's hard to tell how much vouchers, or any other issue, might have colored the committee's choices. The governor merely rubber-stamped the committee's recommendations, without researching the qualifications of the candidates or considering what their motives might be.
This process for electing a school board is far from democratic and is too susceptible to political manipulation. For 10 years prior to 2004, committees in each of the state's 15 school board districts nominated two candidates for the ballot in a system that was more fair and less easily manipulated, although no more democratic.
Those committees were more familiar with local issues and local candidates. And they were more directly accountable to constituents; after all, they were their neighbors.
Utahs would be better served by that system or, even better, by trusting voters to choose board members directly, as they do other elected officials.