School & District Management

Utah Board’s Incumbents Left Outside, Looking In

By Michele McNeil — June 17, 2008 1 min read
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For members of the Utah state board of education, running for re-election isn’t as simple as tossing your hat into the ring again.

If that were the case, three incumbents would be on the ballot in November—and not headed for retirement. At least one of those incumbents says the situation could be due to fallout from last fall’s heated referendum that overturned a state voucher law.

Utah has an unusual elected-appointed hybrid method of selecting its 15 state school board members.

Under a 1994 law, a nominating committee appointed by the governor narrows the list for each seat up for election. (Seven seats are up this year.) Then, the governor’s office narrows the list to two for each seat; those two candidates then square off for voters.

The system is intended to help recruit a diverse set of candidates.

This year, incumbents Teresa Theurer, Bill Colbert, and board Chairman Richard Sadler won’t be on the fall ballot because they didn’t make the final cut.

Ms. Theurer, who was first elected in 2000 with 68 percent of the vote (beating an incumbent), had her name advanced to the office of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. But in making his two picks on June 6, the governor, a Republican, didn’t choose her because she was ranked third on the list.

“It’s disappointing, because I’ve won two elections and I can’t even be on the ballot,” said Ms. Theurer, who was re-elected in 2004 with 64 percent of the vote.

Mr. Sadler and Mr. Colbert, both in their first terms, also didn’t make the governor’s list.

Ms. Theurer said she wasn’t surprised to get the boot because she had spoken out against the voucher law passed last year by the legislature. The measure, which would have granted publicly funded private-school-tuition aid to any public school student, was overturned in the November 2007 referendum, and hard feelings linger. (“Utah’s Vote Raises Bar on Choice,” November 14, 2007.)

Mr. Colbert was also an opponent of vouchers; Mr. Sadler didn’t have an outspoken position one way or another.

But Lisa Roskelley, a spokesman for Gov. Huntsman, said he narrowed the list by picking the two highest-scoring nominees, according to scores the commission awarded.

A version of this article appeared in the June 18, 2008 edition of Education Week

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