A prediction by Murray High School teacher Craig Hammer that Ted Wilson would sweep the gubernatorial race underscores the greatest fear of even professional political forecasters: They can be wrong.
Results of a mock election announced Tuesday morning showed that Gov. Norman Bangerter is again the students' choice for governor. He edged out Democratic challenger Wilson by 15 votes, 148-133.Independent candidate Merrill Cook received 35 votes, and the three initiatives were overwhelmingly defeated.
Republicans in general garnered the most votes in the school election Monday. Incumbent Congressman Wayne Owens, D-Utah, was the exception.
But it was the students themselves who scored the biggest win.
Following an intensive course in politics, students walked into their school voting booths "more politically aware of what's going on."
"You need to be informed as a voter. You need to go in there and not just punch some holes," Hammer, a U.S. government and law teacher, had told the students. "I would rather you not vote than to vote uninformed."
Thanks to a program designed by the PTA and school faculty, the students this month got a good taste of politics, which said Hammer, left a "bad taste in their mouths."
After examining party platforms, initiatives and propositions and exchanging ideas with the candidates themselves, Hammer said a lot of the students came away with "informed opinions."
"But more than anything, they now have a bad taste about politics. They were really concerned about the negativism of the 1988 campaigns."
They were also concerned about candidates' stands on such issues as abortion, gun control, minimum wage, the Great Salt Lake pumping project, money for education and the death penalty.
"When Democrat Art Monson (candidate for state treasurer) mentioned he was against the death penalty, it struck a nerve" Hammer said. Students were also surprised that Salt Lake County Commissioner John Hiskey, representing the stateDemocratic Party, favored capital punishment and opposed abortion, both positions just opposite the national Democratic platform. "Their jaws hit the floor. They concluded that there aren't a lot of real liberals in Utah," Hammer said.
All juniors and seniors were invited to the meet-the-candidate sessions. And each session was packed.
"I told the students that the only stupid question is a question that isn't asked," said Hammer, who urged the
tudents to "back these people into a corner; put them on the spot, make them defend their positions.
"These people represent you, so leave no stone unturned," he counseled. "Make sure that when you ask a question, they answer your question. If they don't, pin them down."
Hammer said candidate Merrill Cook, who was pinned down during a heated exchange, made this comment upon leaving Murray High: "These kids are more informed than the average voter on the street; those were the toughest questions I have been asked the whole campaign."
Many students took their new-found knowledge into the school's voting booths Monday.
Judy Dansie, past Murray PTA Council president who helped initiate the program, said 60 percent of eligible voters (junior and seniors) registered to vote. Of the registered voters, 71 percent cast their ballots in Monday's election.
The election program itself received high marks from all participants.
"My goal was to lay everything out on the table and then let the students decide," Hammer said. "I have my political beliefs, and it's hard to teach and not let them know what I think.
"But I told them that I didn't care if they were Republican, Democrat or neither. If you vote, I have won."
No one's predicting the outcome of Tuesday's general election will resemble Murray High's.
"What we do know is that the students went home and talked with their parents about the issues and candidates," Dansie said.
It remains to be seen, however, if their opinions on candidates - like other things - differ.