The ongoing fight for control of the Utah Republican Party between the right-wing faction and the more moderate business interests has as its epicenter in the Davis County School Board race, which is supposed to be non-partisan.
The core issue dividing the moderates and the tea party advocates in Utah's GOP is education. The argument is whether a commitment should be made to strengthen the existing public education model or to tear it down, break it up into disparate parts and privatize it wherever possible.
To that end, the top two offices of the Davis County Republican Party have been captured by tea party devotees who align with the politically active Eagle Forum and other ideology-driven groups that have tried to wrest control from the public education establishment ever since they lost the 2007 statewide fight over taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers.
The Utah Legislature, in concert with private school and home school interests, had passed a bill to give tax credits to help parents pay private school tuition if they wanted to pull their children out of the public school system. The law was repealed overwhelmingly in a ballot referendum later that year, but the voucher advocates have been chipping away at the school system ever since.
This year, the Republican Party in Davis County has become actively involved in three Davis School Board races in which tea-party favorites are running against education establishment candidates. Several pieces of literature, party emails and a questionnaire on the party's website suggest leaders in the Davis County GOP are trying to influence the outcome of the non-partisan races even though all the candidates Republican.
Two incumbents, Barbara Smith and James Clark, are being challenged by Sandra Mountcastle and Larry Smith, respectively. The third school board race is an open seat, contested by retired public school administrator Kathie Bone and challenger Paul Prier, who is the chosen candidate, along with Mountcastle and Smith, of the tea party faction.
The chair of the Davis County Republican Party is Kris Kimball, a leader in the conservative United Women's Forum, which is closely allied with the Utah Eagle Forum, which is constantly using its influence at the Legislature to push its agenda at the expense of the public education system.
The vice chair is Phil Wright, who also is aligned with the tea party faction. The Republican Party fingerprints on the school board races include:
• Sponsorship of meet-the-candidate events where questions are tailored to favor the tea party candidates, sending questionnaires to the non-partisan school board candidates that are based on the Davis County Republican platform, then posting the results on the party's Web site.
• Sponsoring meet-the-candidates events to showcase favored candidates.
• A recent Davis County communication to party activists reminded them to get out the vote, the date when early voting ends, and invited them to a meet-the-candidate event with Prier, the tea party candidate for the open seat.
• An unattributed flier also endorsed the three tea-party candidates and included what has been shown to be misinformation about the actions of the current Davis County School Board.
The three tea-party candidates also have been publicly endorsed by Davis School Board member Peter Cannon, who is usually the one dissenting vote on board actions. Cannon, a Republican activist with tea party credentials, has said that with these three new members, his views will be endorsed by the new majority on the board.
Cannon is famous, or infamous, for advocating such ideas as forcing children on the reduced-cost school lunch program to stand in a different line in the school cafeteria and be issued different-colored lunch tickets.