The whole point of an election is to choose those who will hold public office based on, among other things, their opinions. So it may seem a reach for a passed-over candidate for a seat on the Utah State Board of Education to complain, via a lawsuit, that he was improperly denied a spot on the ballot because his opinions don’t jibe with the opinions of those doing the choosing.
That sounds like a Democrat complaining that he didn’t get elected in a Republican district because those meanies didn’t like his stands on the issues.
But, then, the whole process for selecting state school board members is such a mess that any attack on the status quo could be worth pursuing.
The particulars of the latest case, briefly, are that one Breck England was interviewed by members of the panel created by state law to screen candidates and submit at least three names to the governor. The governor then picks two candidates whose names will appear on the ballot for each of the board’s 15 districts.
When England’s candidacy for the District 5 seat on the board, representing much of Davis County, did not survive that gantlet, he sued, claiming he was unjustly excluded for expressing his opinions in violation of his First Amendment rights. Opinions, his attorney said, that were perhaps a little "too pro-public education."
In a normal world, one would expect that being "pro-public education" would be a baseline for service on the board that governs public education.
But this isn’t the normal world. This is public education in Utah. Where, by law, the opinions of the electorate are but a piffle compared to the opinions of a panel that few have heard of and which, by law, must include members from various industries (manufacturing, utilities, agriculture, etc.) and interest groups (teachers, parents, local school boards).
When do the people of Utah have their say? On Election Day. After the number of candidates has been squished down to the two who have pleased the committee and the governor. When the electorate may choose between two folks they may never have heard of and who, if the people had any say, might have been rated far below many of the candidates who made it through this most undemocratic of processes.
The non-lawyers in this corner don’t give England’s suit much of a chance. But it will be worth it if it moves the Legislature to finally do away with the ridiculous system we have now and replace it with a real state school board election.
Candidates will still be rejected for having the wrong opinions. But at least it will be the people doing the rejecting.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.