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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.