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My view: State school board needs election, not selection

By Gary Thompson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

They are the only legitimate "screening committee" and determine of their own accord who should and should not be elected to open positions in government. State school board members must be elected in the same fashion. The governor's power to arbitrarily narrow voters' options must be repealed.

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Imagine running for public office, only to be told by the governor that he didn't want you to be on the ballot. Then imagine that the governor actually had the power to make it happen.

This un-democratic mental exercise is a reality in Utah, and each of us has been in this position. As past candidates for the state school board, we were each denied ballot access by the governor or his appointed agents without voters having a say.

Utah law allows a committee of 12 persons, appointed by the governor, to screen candidates for the state school board and select at least three from each district they find best (for whatever reason) to submit to the governor for consideration. Any candidate not chosen is unable to appeal to voters and has effectively been weeded out of the electoral process.

The governor then has the authority to choose two candidates from each district to advance to the ballot, repeating this disenfranchising process for unselected candidates whose aspirations are terminated by an arbitrary gubernatorial decree.

We ran for the office of state school board for a variety of reasons. Each of us has different political views, educational philosophies and personal priorities. What unites us is our status as one-time candidates who were denied ballot access by a fundamentally unfair, un-democratic process.

For this past 2012 election, 42 candidates for state school board positions were denied ballot access by the governor or his appointed committee. Prior years have produced similar results: dozens of qualified candidates being prevented from seeking public office before being able to make their case to voters. This screening process even weeds out incumbents whom voters had previously supported, but who were denied another electoral attempt by the screening committee.

No other government office in Utah is subject to this arbitrary procedure. Municipal candidates, county commissioners, state legislators and even the office of governor are all left in the hands of voters to decide. They are the only legitimate "screening committee" and determine of their own accord who should and should not be elected to open positions in government. State school board members must be elected in the same fashion. The governor's power to arbitrarily narrow voters' options must be repealed.

John Adams once warned that to "nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people." Our liberties have been diminished by subjecting our candidacies to the review and permission of an unelected body appointed by a single person. Arbitrary power indeed — the fate of our candidacies should have been determined by the public at large and not anyone else.

The Utah Legislature must alter the law to replace "selection" with "election" for state school board candidates. Voting constituencies, instead of screening committees, should determine who is most qualified and best prepared for any given office.

Gary Thompson is a doctor of child psychology and former state school board candidate. He is one of 20 former candidates to jointly sign this letter.

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