One More School Boards Debate: This Time with My Candidates

Last night’s debate at Mt. Mahogany Elementary in Pleasant Grove was moderated by American Fork High School Students — who performed respectably — and attended by about 40 people who weren’t candidates and who behaved respectfully.

That is, the first half, with the the Alpine School Board candidates who will appear on my ballot, John Burton and Chris Jolley, was attended by 40 people. Half of those left before the second half of the debate, which featured state school board candidates.

First, briefly, the state candidates . . .

Joel Wright, Joylin Lincoln, Heather Groom

Tonight’s debate was less substantive than last week’s and descended a few times into personal attacks and responses to personal attacks, mostly between Joel Wright and Heather Groom. That happens sometimes. It doesn’t particularly impress the sort of voter who spends Wednesday evening at a debate.

As to the candidates themselves, I refer you to my notes from last week. On matters of substance this evening’s debate solidified my earlier impressions.

With apologies to Heather Groom, who didn’t provide an irresistible one-liner tonight — and because life is too short to spend an hour listening to the recording in the hope of finding one the second time — here are my two favorite one-liners from the state portion of the debate.

  • Joel Wright: “I love that people are getting involved. . . . It’s the World Series Game 7, with a kid from Pleasant Grove pitching. Why in the world are you not watching that? You’re here. You’re trying to make a difference.”
  • Joylin Lincoln: “Some people can play the piano beautifully. Some people are very athletic. I have a strange hobby of reading the State Code.”

I’m still voting for Joel Wright, but anytime Joylin Lincoln wants to move to American Fork and run for something here, she’ll immediately be head and shoulders above most of the competition, and I’ll be delighted to support her.

John Burton and Chris Jolley

Tonight’s performances by my two local candidates for the Alpine School Board solidified my existing position, which grew out of studying the candidates and their web sites, being badgered by their supporters, my past experience with John Burton, and speaking with Dr. Jolley briefly the other night.

I’ve taken some grief from good friends for publicly supporting the man I campaigned against four years ago, when I managed his opponent’s campaign. As I said in my election guide, Burton has become exactly the sort of school board member we thought he would be. He’s the establishment’s man. I do not want to vote for him, but his opponent is so toxic that my interest in good government requires it. I’ll return to this theme before we’re done here.

Meanwhile, Burton ran circles around Jolley tonight, who came ill-prepared even on his own pet issues. He needed facts and knowledge to go with his principles, but he didn’t have them. He was beaten — beaten up — on his own issues.

A Problem of Temperament

The problem was evident from his opening statement. He explained that he’s running because he attended a school board meeting, where dozens of citizens spoke on two issues, and they were all on the same side. Then the school board voted against them anyway — “against the will of the people,” he said. He felt as if he was not represented.

Anyone who has spent any serious time in a legislative body — or watching one work — understands that the people who come to speak on an issue are rarely evenly split. It’s not unusual for them all to take the same side. And they are rarely representative of the population at large. We pay our legislators to use their own judgment and consider the will of all the people, not just the people who are exercised enough to show up at a particular meeting. And they generally have talked to more people about a key issue — and a broader cross-section — than show up at a given meeting.

Burton explained this later reasonably well, but didn’t quite stick the landing.

In any case, Jolley’s ignorance of this says to me that Jolley lacks the temperament and experience for the job he seeks.

So does his vague claim that his wife has been receiving threats from “my opponent’s supporters.” If he makes an inflammatory statement like that, he needs to give us some details to back up the charge. Likewise the charge that government e-mail addresses were being used for political advocacy.

Orem CDA

Burton took Jolley to school on the proposed University Mall/University Place Commercial Development Area (CDA) in Orem, where the district may give a big future property tax break to the developer that wants to spend $50 million upgrading the University Mall. No taxes currently paid will be waived, Burton said, and in the long run the development should produce far more tax revenue than needed to offset the incentive. In my view, in a time when we have to find ways to fund schooling for a rapidly growing student population — for decades to come — investing at no present cost now in substantial future revenues seems prudent.

(See this Daily Herald story about the CDA and its backers and opponents’ arguments. Apologies for sending you to a site that has added so much advertising that it’s annoying to use, but that’s where the article is. Just be careful where you click.)

Jolley and other opponents of the proposed CDA argue that the government shouldn’t play favorites. In my view, they can’t make the case that that is happening. If the owner of another mall in the district wanted a tax incentive to invest $50 million, there’s no reason to suppose that the school board and other taxing entities would oppose that, if the numbers worked. As in so many cases, simplistic, ideological arguments don’t reflect reality.

And the opponents sometimes overstate their case, as Jolley did when he said that the job of government is “to create a level playing field.” That’s the sort of thing we hear from the left.

Common Core

Another of Jolley’s major issues is opposition to Common Core. Jolley’s general point last night was that Utah isn’t allowed to modify Common Core standards imposed from out of state. Burton refuted that in detail, with a little help from a detailed letter from a prominent Utah conservative, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. Jolley hemmed and hawed and said that Reyes hadn’t even been elected, so he was just a tool of the governor — a weak response.

Burton spoke at some length in defense of the Common Core standards, which he has read and Jolley hasn’t.

Jolley identified one of my own major concerns about Common Core: the inappropriately broad and invasive data collected about not only students, but also their families. A tyrant’s delight. (My phrase.)

I can’t vouch authoritatively for the alleged facts on either side of this issue; there’s a lot more heat than light out there on Common Core. But on the points discussed tonight I’m more inclined to believe Burton than Jolley, because of their respective responses and demeanor.

Those Clubs

One question on numerous minds in the current school board races relates to the board’s recent approval of controversial clubs — a Gay/Straight Alliance and a club to support abuse victims — which some board members and candidates insist are forbidden by state law, because they are based on sexuality. Burton defended his votes to approve these without blinking, and explained that they were not, in fact, that sort of club — as district legal counsel had affirmed, based on the proposed bylaws of the clubs, which classified them as service clubs.

[Later note: I’ve been advised that the second club mentioned was actually for students who have felt bullied or ostracized, not specifically for abuse victims. I appreciate the correction.]

I doubt Burton persuaded anyone who did not already agree, but I liked how he stood up for his own votes on controversial matters.

In General

The questions tonight included too many softballs intended to benefit one candidate and expose the other, and Burton himself wasn’t uniformly compelling, but he stood head and shoulders and then some above his opponent.

I could belabor their questions and answers more, but a lot of the questions weren’t very useful. I actually don’t care what the candidates’ personal incomes are, for example. (Their answers in that case weren’t much better than the question.)

Allow me to summarize: Burton was knowledgeable, reasonable, and competent. Jolley was petulant, childish, and astonishingly ill-informed, even if you allow generously for the fact that he is a challenger, not someone who has been doing the job for four years.

Burton shellacked Jolley on substance, to be sure, but also on style. Speaking of the latter, here’s a suggestion for future candidates: If you want to play gotcha with your opponent, job one is to get your facts straight. Jolley didn’t, and it wasn’t pretty.

Better yet, get your facts straight, but don’t play gotcha. It’s not how serious candidates impress serious voters.

Otherwise, by the time you get around to telling me how you will be the one who can turn the school board majority from what I have called the establishment party to what I have called the people’s or outsiders’ party . . . I won’t even care, because it’s just not worth it.

Allow Me to Explain Again

I very much dislike John Burton’s close ties to the public education establishment and his stated sense — from the previous campaign — that a school board ought to function less as a legislative body of the people’s representatives than as a weak corporate board that never disagrees in public. I think that’s bad for good government and ultimately bad for the schools and the students.

I’m voting for him anyway, to the horror of some good friends.

To measure Jolley by some of his principles, or the fact that he is running against the establishment candidate, you would think he is my natural ally — at least more nearly so that Burton. But his attitudes and temperament are such that I believe he would do more harm than good to my version of good government. In other words, I believe that he would represent my interests, principles, and views so poorly that we’d be better off with the guy who shares fewer of my principles.

(Of course, if preparation, knowledge, temperament, and competence are also principles, Burton looks better.)

In any case, let it be said that John Burton is a very good man. People who have known him well for decades tell me so, and my differences with his philosophy do not contradict this.

I will stipulate that Chris Jolley is a very good man. People who know him say so. But I don’t want him anywhere near political office.

An Illustration

Four years ago, as I managed the last several weeks of Burton’s opponent’s campaign, I had to say often that Burton was a good man. That was the campaign’s official position, and we spent a lot of time declaring it — including time we should have been able to spend on other matters.

Here’s why.

Some of my candidate’s more vocal supporters were going door to door, telling voters that Burton was an evil man, a socialist and a communist. They quoted LDS prophets and scripture in the process. They made fliers about it, too. A significant number of voters decided to support Burton before they ever knew him, because they couldn’t stand the tactics of the other guy’s supporters.

So the radicalism and toxicity of some of my candidate’s supporters pushed voters to his opponent. More than a few voters, I believe. And I spent a lot of hours I could have spent on something else useful to the campaign, pushing back against the toxic wave. In some cases, I was able to persuade them to stop, and to channel their zeal in useful directions. In other cases, I was able to help them temper their rhetoric, so it didn’t harm the campaign nearly as much. In one instance, a prominent radical from outside the district offered the campaign a lot of money, if we — and this is my interpretation — would allow that radical to use us for statewide fund-raising. We said thank you, no.

My point is that sometimes the worst thing you can do for your own worthy cause is to elevate an apparent ally to public office, when he or she lacks the knowledge and temperament for that office. There is a high probability that this individual will advocate your own cause (more or less) so recklessly, irresponsibly, and destructively, that your cause — and the more general cause of good government — will be set back decisively and for a long time to come.

I’ve seen it before, including recently and at close range. I believe the risk of that happening again is high with Chris Jolley. I didn’t start from this position, and I didn’t want to arrive here. But this is where my observations have led me.

Reluctant as I am to say this, even for me John Burton is the better choice. I will hope for a well-qualified candidate with principles similar to mine four years hence.

First, do no harm.

5 thoughts on “One More School Boards Debate: This Time with My Candidates”

  1. Tim Osborn says:

    David, I understand your issues with Mr. Jolley, and by your accounts he may have sealed the fate of the election with the debate, but I do believe there’s a lot more to what you are seeing.

    Please remember that Mr. Burton has 20+ years of being trained on how to be the ‘face of ASD’ and how to make people like you even when you’re stabbing them in the back. This is nothing that’s unexpected. If you’re voting for this then I’m really surprised because your not voting on principles, IMHO, and those principles go way deep.

    If you look at the race that’s being run to the south, that is the race between JoDee Sundberg and Maynard Olsen, you’ll see a lot of mud being thrown at Dr. Olsen from Sundberg’s group. Why? Why is it so important that JoDee win this race? Why is it so important that Burton wins this race?

    The principles are clear and defined.

    In 1984 the ASD sided with BYU and created the BYU-Public School Partnership in under the direction of Dr. John Goodlad. If you don’t know about Dr. Goodlad do your homework. As one prominent teacher at AFHS states, “If we all knew about Dr. Goodlad we’d all be rushing the ASD offices to get us out of the partnership. It’s that scary.”

    Since 1984 the ASD has been under the direction, that is the superintendency, of Goodlad Scholars. Dr. Steven Baugh and now Dr. Vern Henshaw. Waiting in the wings is Dr. Barry Graff, now asst Superintendent with the ASD. Given that Dr. Henshaw is nearing retirement pieces are in place to put Dr. Graff at the helm of the ASD. Do we need this? Do we need another Goodlad Scholar, who preaches Social Justice, and the likes at the helm? Those at the top of the ASD hierarchy know that if it is a 4-3 board against them then Graff will never become the superintendent.

    Why do you think they’re fighting so hard to keep Burton and Sundberg there? Think deeper than a smiling face that can answer questions and respond quickly. I guarantee you that that front is hiding more than you want to know.

    Since 1984 the ASD Board of Ed has been nothing short of a complete “Rubber Stamp” and you’ve even said just that on many occasions. Again, do we need that?

    The principles are defined. The mud that’s being thrown would have been thrown at Dr. Jolley had he been a stronger candidate. The BYU-PSP/CITES, under the direction of Gary Seastrand, past Asst Sup of ASD, great friends of Barry Graff and Vern Henshaw, is doing the research. They are immune from anybody coming after them due to their being at BYU, which is a private university.

    This ‘Good Old Boys Club’ that’s been around for the long time, that’s aligned with Goodlad needs to be dismantled and we have to do our part, even if it hurts. To not do our part only helps to push the agenda and allow the nefarious policies to continue which, as you know and have spelled out before, will destroy America which I love dearly.

    I love you, dear man. I look up to you, but on this one I think you’re missing the deepest point of all. Let me ask you, were there any questions about the BYU-PSP/CITES? Why or why not? I was busy with the marching band or else I would have asked one. why don’t you do this, ask Mr. Burton if he’s ever met Goodlad (he has) and what are his thoughts if he fesses up to doing so. I think you may be in for a surprise. We may all be in for a surprise. John Spencer, HR Director for the ASD said that Goodlad is a very nice, congenial man and that his is well respected….

    Nice doesn’t cut it. Principles do.

    1. David Rodeback says:

      Tim, I haven’t followed the other races for Alpine School Board closely, except for attending a debate to which Wendy Hart showed up and Lynne Mower didn’t. But you know I basically agree with you philosophically. So let’s oversimplify for a moment, for the sake of argument, and say it’s our philosophy vs. their philosophy, not just in this election, but generally.

      There is a base — relatively small, I think, against the whole population of voters — who is firmly in our camp and unlikely to be moved, for philosophical reasons. There is a relatively small base of voters who are not likely to be moved from their philosophy. In the middle is a large mass of voters — including a lot of teachers and PTSA members — who care about the schools and the children and who are somewhat susceptible to the other side framing political differences in a we-love-the-children-they-hate-them manner, as they’ve been doing effectively for years, anytime someone from our side advocates some change.

      If we send a Wendy Hart to the school board, who communicates well, does her homework, and is passionately devoted to the facts, she’ll have a fighting chance of articulating our side in such a way as to sway the large middle somewhat in our direction, not just for this election but for several elections to come. We’ll have a fighting chance, not just for this election, but in the future.

      On the other hand, if we send a poor representative of our side to the board, who can be easily dismantled every time he opens his mouth, because for him ideology is an adequate substitute for facts, we may have his vote for four years, but he will discredit our side with the malleable middle for decades to come. Thus we win a little battle but continue to lose the war.

      If the ship were actually sinking under their side’s majority, I might feel otherwise. But the crew below decks is wonderfully competent, and we’re simply debating which island in a chain should be our destination, and what should be our route. We need the ship not to sink in the meantime. We need a captain who can read a map and a weather forecast, and understand the chief engineer’s reports. If we give the captain’s chair to a random passenger who doesn’t know how to drive a boat, but is convinced that his nice ideology qualifies him to know better, we’ll run aground, and that nice ideology — even if true — will be discredited for many cruises to come.

      My minimum standard for a representative for our side is someone who will do more good to our cause than harm, and make it more likely, not less, for our side to win the next election and the next and the next. I am sorry to be judgmental of a candidate who is probably a good man — though candidates invite themselves to judge them — but we’re not there in this race.

  2. Daniel Zappala says:

    From the DN article:

    “Property tax revenue for the next 40 years for the district with a $100 million Woodbury investment and no CDA is $75.4 million. Property Tax revenue for the next 40 years with a $500 million investment including the CDA is $129.4 million. That is a total of $53.9 million of lost revenue if the CDA doesn’t go through.”

    All of this is based on the assumption that the developer will not build out without the CDA. There is no way to verify this, other than the developer’s word. In other words, without the CDA, it’s possible that tax revenue for the next 40 years is $173 million, not $129 million, and we’ll lose out on $44 million in revenue.

    This really comes down to a developer holding leverage over a community. They can threaten to go elsewhere, because other cities like Lehi are more than willing to use a CDA. These kinds of things pit cities against each other, with the developer holding the strings.

    If you want the project to succeed, because you feel it would benefit the community, you don’t end up having much choice.

  3. Daniel Zappala says:

    I’ve read tons of material on the BYU-Public School Partnership, Dr. John Goodlad, and the supposed socialism and social justice that BYU and ASD are preaching. A lot of it comes from Oak Norton and his crowd.

    If you want to sway me to vote against your slate of candidates, you are doing a GREAT job by bringing up conspiracy theories about liberalism and social justice running amok in Alpine School District. You’ve given everyone a great reason to vote for Burton.

    1. David Rodeback says:

      Social democracy is one theoretical route to socialism, and Goodlad et al. are big on that. But theory tends to be subordinated to practice, especially with reasonable people like most teachers. It would be pretty hard to get socialism (or social democracy or social justice) to run rampant among the ASD faculty.

      And as soon as I hear people calling out Marxism, which a certain faction does a lot, I know they don’t know what they’re talking about.

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