Utah’s voucher referendum vote is just over six weeks away. From here in Dallas, it appears the anti-voucher forces are leading.
Why do I say that without looking at a single poll? The pro-voucher forces have gone dirty, by Utah political standards: They’re pushing an opinion piece that says God and the Mormon pioneers favor vouchers, according to an AP report via KSL.com (radio and television).
It the occasionally peculiar language of Utah politics, it’s a desperate move, intentionally below the belt, in hopes of crippling the opposition so a win by default must be declared, even over the foul.
A conservative think tank is distributing a lengthy essay on the history of education in Utah that implies that if Mormons don’t vote in favor of the state’s school voucher law that they could face cultural extinction.
The “conservative think tank” is the Sutherland Institute (SI), which would be a far-right wing group in most other places. SI published a 40-page brief in favor of the Utah voucher plan, and its director, Paul Mero, is on the road in Utah speaking before every Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and gathering of checkers players he can find. An excerpt appears at their website, and this appears to be the subject of the current controversy.
Education is one of the key values of the Latter-day Saints Church (LDS or Mormon). “Knowledge is the glory of God,” reads one inscription on a gate leading to the church’s flagship school in Provo, Brigham Young University (BYU). Schools were always among the first things built in new Mormon settlements. The University of Utah — originally the University of Deseret — is the oldest public university west of the Missouri, founded in 1850. Mormons take pride in their getting of education, and in the education establishments they’ve created.
Mero’s argument is that the Mormons were forced to give up their private schools for public schools in the anti-polygamy controversies leading up to Utah statehood in 1896. This is a weak hook upon which to hang the voucher campaign. He’s trying to appeal to Mormons who worry about government interference in religion.
The foundations of his argument do not hold up well. “[LDS] Church spokesman Mark N. Tuttle issued a two-sentence response to the essay, saying the church hasn’t taken a position on school vouchers,” the AP article notes.
Utah’s voucher program is the standard vampire voucher structure, taking money away from public schools in favor of private and sectarian schools, and not putting any new money into public schooling. When the Utah legislature passed the program, public opposition was so strong that a petition to put in on the ballot as a referendum captured a record number of signatures in a record period of time.
More to come, certainly.