Friday, March 23, 2007

Republican delegate responds to PCE's "Liberal Bad" letter

Despite attacks by policy makers and Parents for Choice,

Utahns for Public Schools ‘committed to ensuring that the will of the people is heard’

When David Gatti, a teacher and state Republican delegate, received a letter from Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) saying, “Republicans must not sign these [school voucher referendum] petitions,” he was outraged.

Like a majority of Utahns, Gatti believes that citizens should have an opportunity to vote on whether or not private school vouchers are a wise use of taxpayer dollars. (In a March 9 poll released by KSL Television, 80 percent of Utahns said they would sign a petition to put education vouchers on the ballot.)

In a response to Doug Holmes, PCE chairman and author of the letter, Gatti reminded Holmes that the referendum process provides checks and balances on the power of the state’s policymakers “just in case elected officials do not represent the will of their [constituencies].

“The fact that you are against letting the people vote on such an important piece of policy lets me know that you are afraid of the possible results,” Gatti told Holmes. “I do not disagree that there are parts of the public education system that could be revamped. Let’s start by investing our money there – where [96] percent of Utah students are and will continue to be educated. Finally, do not ask me not to exercise my constitutionally guaranteed right to petition the government. Many people have died, and are dying for that document; do not ever insult it like this . . . and especially never do it under the guise of being a responsible Republican.”

Gatti and more than 15,000 volunteers statewide have until April 9 to gather 92,000 signatures and ensure a ballot referendum on a new private school voucher law passed by the 2007 Utah Legislature. The organization behind the referendum effort – Utahns for Public Schools (UTPS) – has support from the following organizations: Utah State Parent Teacher Association (PTA); Utah School Boards Association (USBA); Utah School Superintendents Association (USSA); Utah School Employees Association (USEA); Utah Education Association (UEA); NAACP – Salt Lake Chapter; League of Women Voters; Utah Association of Elementary School Principals (UAESP); and the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals (UASSP). According to UTPS, 9,000 petitions have been delivered to the Utah Education Association and 6,000 have been delivered to PTA volunteers.

“We have PTA moms and dads who are leading this effort to give the people of Utah a chance to vote on whether vouchers are worth the expense,” said Carmen Snow, state PTA president and a UTPS spokesperson. “We have encountered roadblocks at every turn, but our people remain committed to ensuring that the will of the people is heard.”

The “roadblocks” Snow referred to began after the referendum petition was filed in early March. UTPS attorney Janet Jenson received a call from the office of Utah Lt. Governor Gary Herbert, telling her the petition was invalid because the notary’s stamp was green instead of purple. The state employee Jenson talked to later recanted. Jenson received another call informing her that the petition was invalid because it was called a “Petition for Referendum,” rather than an “Application for Petition for Referendum.” Once again, following a challenge by Jenson, the employee recanted.

Lt. Governor Herbert and Utah state Senator Curtis Bramble (R-Provo) then proceeded to argue that the referendum petition to put education vouchers on the ballot was pointless because a second law was passed by the Legislature – and that law superseded House Bill 148, the basis for the petition drive.

Jenson argues that the second bill (House Bill 174) does not supersede HB 148.

And that means repealing HB 148 will kill both bills. In addition, Jenson noted that it wasn’t possible to challenge HB 174 because it hadn’t been signed into law by the time the referendum deadline passed.

“Having spent more than half a million dollars to buy legislators’ votes and get the voucher bill enacted by a single vote after it had been voted down six previous times, did we really believe that the pro-voucher machine would just quietly roll over when we stood up for ourselves, our children and our public schools and demanded to vote?” Jenson said. “Heavens, no. Voucher proponents will use every weapon they’ve got to stop us from putting this on the ballot. We have to expect them to run media ads that distort the truth, file lawsuits, pressure people not to sign petitions or even to take their names back off after they do sign.”

Last week, as Jenson predicted, the Utah Republican Party began running radio advertisements, patting themselves on the back for a legislature and governor who approved the nation’s most sweeping voucher legislation. When the ads first aired, they ended with a notation they had been paid for by the Utah Republican Party. That tag line was taken off after a couple of days.

“Like the civil rights marchers of the 1960’s, we will not stop until Utah taxpayers are given an opportunity to be heard on this most important issue,” said Snow.

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