Never underestimate the power of parents. That’s the lesson
that Utah Gov. Olene S. Walker learned May 8, when she was effectively
barred from running to keep her job.
At the state’s Republican nominating convention, Gov. Walker came in fourth in an eight-way competition for the GOP slot for governor—a spot not high enough to allow her to continue in the campaign, despite her wish to run for a term in her own right. Ms. Walker moved up from lieutenant governor last year, when Gov. Michael O. Leavitt left to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
She was the first Utah governor who failed to win the party nomination in 48 years.
Under Utah’s political rules, if no candidate garners 60 percent support for the nomination, the top two vote-getters move on to the June primary.
Parents and some education advocacy groups had declared war on Gov. Walker, the state’s first female chief executive, and it appears they won.
At issue was her veto, in March, of a bill that would have created the nation’s second state voucher program for students in special education. The proposed Carson Smith Special Need Scholarships could have provided more than $5,000 in public money per child for such students to attend private or religious schools. ("Gov. Walker Turns Down Voucher Bill," March 31, 2004.)
Gov. Walker had tried to assuage voucher advocates by appointing a special commission to look into how to get the money to special education students. But parents weren’t placated, and some vowed to mobilize against her at the convention.
"The delegates understood Governor Walker was opposed to school choice," said Elisa Clements Peterson, the executive director of Utah’s Parents for Choice in Education Political Action Committee. "In education, she seemed to miss the mark in understanding what Utah parents are looking for."
Amanda Covington, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that the veto of the special education vouchers certainly played a part in the governor’s defeat, but that other issues, including the fact that Gov. Walker had announced her candidacy late, were also to blame.
—Michelle R. Davis
Vol. 23, Issue 37, Page 23Published in Print: May 19, 2004, as State Journal