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Rolly: Partisan school board elections just one more step toward total GOP domination in Utah

First Published      Last Updated Jun 29 2017 09:09 pm

A lawsuit filed this week to negate the new partisan state school board elections is a reminder of the Utah Legislature's systematic attempts at partisan cleansing.

Lawmakers' history of gerrymandering to ensure Republicans win a high percentage of legislative and congressional seats is one way they've stacked the deck.

Then they attempted to remove the requirement that most state advisory boards and commissions have a bipartisan blend of Republicans and Democrats, which would have made it possible that only Republicans would be appointed to advise Republican elected officials.

Add to that the law, which takes effect next year, to have partisan elections for the Utah Board of Education.

The message becomes clear: The already-dominant GOP Legislature wants to erase Democrats and independents from having any voice in policymaking in the Beehive State.

Even worse, the GOP's governing base — comprised of its state Central Committee and convention delegates — wants to limit seats at the table not just to Republicans, but those Republicans who unflinchingly swear fealty to every aspect of the party platform, written by that narrow group of GOP partisans.

Due to decades of boundary manipulation, all of Utah's congressional districts and most legislative districts overwhelmingly favor Republicans.

A recent Associated Press analysis shows that while Republicans received 64 percent of the vote in Utah legislative races last year, they won 83 percent of all state House seats. And all four U.S. House seats in the state are held by Republicans.

Yet, it's not enough that Republicans have all the major positions in the executive and legislative branches of government, they don't want Democrats to have a say even in an advisory capacity to those elected leaders.

Gov. Gary Herbert recently vetoed a bill that easily passed the Legislature that would have removed the requirement to appoint at least some Democrats to dozens of state boards and commissions.

GOP legislators have vowed to bring back that measure next year. If they prevail, the only policymaking area not controlled by a narrow faction of one political party would be in education.

With political parties poised to select school board candidates next year, GOP convention delegates, who usually lean far to the right of mainstream Republicans, will be in a prime position to decide who will guide education policies in the future.

These are folks who have fought against basic science instruction, railed against standards set up to ensure students meet certain grade-level goals and tried to micromanage what is taught to reflect their own biases.

If they get their candidates on the ballot as Republicans, they almost surely will win the school board seats, courtesy of the Pavlovian voting habits of most Utahns who automatically cast their ballots for the GOP.

Those perplexing precedents • As Salt Lake County officials ponder what to do with county Recorder Gary Ott, who has shown a diminished capacity to do his job, one suggestion has been to cut his salary and benefits in hopes he would no longer have incentive to stay on and would resign.

Before doing that, they better look at what the Utah Supreme Court had to say.

Two decades ago, then-Morgan County Clerk-Auditor Pauline Green, an elected Democrat, missed the deadline for producing a budget for the next tax year. Two of the three county commissioners, both Republicans, hired someone else to prepare the budget, and they deducted the cost from Green's paycheck.

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