2020 marks first partisan elections for State School Board

2020 marks first partisan elections for State School Board

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SALT LAKE CITY — Eight Republican candidates for the Utah State Board of Education will square off in the primary election on June 30, marking the first time that partisan candidates for the board have appeared on a statewide ballot.

A 2019 decision by the Utah Supreme Court paved the way for candidates to file as partisan candidates. They also may run as unaffiliated candidates.

In the first election cycle since the court ruling, 27 candidates filed to run for the state board — 22 as Republicans, three as Democrats, one Constitutional party candidate, and one candidate who is running unaffiliated.

Prior to this election, all seeking election to State School Board ran as unaffiliated candidates.

The Utah Legislature passed a statute in 2016 that called for partisan State School Board races. The statute’s constitutionality was challenged in court and in 2017, 3rd District Judge Andrew H. Stone ruled that the law conflicted with the Utah Constitution.

State attorneys appealed Stone’s decision and a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the state statute was constitutional.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said this year’s races are historic.

“I believe the verdict is still out on whether this is a good thing. It wasn’t my first choice, but the courts forced the Legislature’s hand a few years ago when it ruled that the then-current process was unconstitutional. I do believe that the party label will give voters some idea where the candidates stand on the political spectrum,” he said.

David Irvine, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs who challenged the constitutionality of the statute allowing State School Board contenders to file as partisan candidates, said when more than 80% of the candidates filed as Republicans, voters may have difficulty differentiating between their positions on issues.

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Irvine said he believes that the first partisan State School Board races will eventually trickle down to local school board races.

“I believe it’s only a matter of time until local boards become partisan. There is a clique in the Legislature that would like to see a state board appointed by the governor. That would have happened already, except that there’s the sticky problem that it would require a constitutional amendment,” he said.

The larger issue is not who is on the Utah State Board of Education or how they got there, Irvine said.

“It’s the constitutional framework that purports to place responsibility for results on the state superintendent and board, but which leaves all of the funding authority in the hands of the Legislature, which invites legislators to assume that they are the state’s ‘super board of education’ and the keeper of the purse. As long as this reality holds sway, maybe the rest of this is just nibbling around the edges,” Irvine said.

The Republican primary election candidates, in alphabetical order by districts, include:

District 4 — Davis and Weber counties: K’Leena Furniss and Brent J. Strate. The current officeholder, Jennifer Graviet, a middle school English teacher, did not seek reelection.

Furniss, of Sunset, is a fifth grade teacher at American Preparatory Academy in West Valley City.

Strate, of South Ogden, is also an educator. He teaches U.S. history at Bonneville High School in the Weber School District. He also serves on the South Ogden City Council.

District 10 — Salt Lake County: Molly L. Hart and David Linford. The current office holder, Shawn Newell, who was appointed to the seat by Gov. Gary Herbert, did not seek election.

Hart, who resides in Sandy, is principal of Albion Middle School in the Canyons School District. She has worked as an educator for more than 20 years as teacher and administrator.

Linford, of Draper, is owner of CAD Design Group, where he provides IT and computer-assisted design consulting services. He also is teaches in the University of Utah’s mining engineering department as an adjunct faculty member and holds an IT analyst position with the Utah National Guard.

District 13 — Utah County: Randy Boothe and Alyson Williams. The current officeholder, Scott Neilson, filed for reelection as a Republican candidate but later withdrew from the race.

Boothe, of Spanish Fork, is a full-time faculty member in the BYU School of Music. He also serves on the Nebo School District Board of Education and filed to run again for that position but later withdrew.

Williams teaches a writing and logic class at Belmont Classical Academy, an independent Christian school in American Fork. She works occasional night shifts at a residential treatment center and is a “transaction coordinator” for a real estate firm company.

District 15 — Iron and Washington counties: Kristan Norton and Scott F. Smith. The incumbent, Michelle Boulter, did not seek reelection.

Norton, of St. George, is a fifth-grade teacher in the Washington County School District and has been a licensed educator for 24 years. She also works for SkyWest Airlines as a financial analyst, according to a disclosure statement filed with the State Elections Office.

Smith, of Santa Clara, is owner of Elevation Fitness and a former member of the State Charter School Board, which is a gubernatorial appointment. Smith has a doctorate in psychology and has worked as a profiler for agencies dealing with psychotic and threatening groups or individuals.

There are no other candidates in the four State School Board districts, so the winners of these races will advance to General Election ballot unopposed.

Marjorie Cortez

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