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Pro-voucher campaign managers have a lot more dollars than sense

Published November 4, 2007 12:00 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A million-dollar-plus campaign promoting vouchers for private schools in what is arguably the most conservative state in the nation should be leading (or at least close) in the public opinion polls.

Instead, I fear a blowout, a defeat of at least a double-digit margin, for vouchers. The likely defeat will come, I believe, a lot more from the behavior of the campaign managers running the pro-voucher effort, than from the issues underlying the choice in education movement itself.



First of all, remember the legislative leaders' and the attorney general's insistence, all the way to the Utah Supreme Court, that even if the voucher program were to lose at the ballot box, it still would win. This put the public in a very skeptical mood right out of the chute, to say the least.

Then, the disclosure that several of the primary promoters, both in and out of the Legislature, were invested in private schools and stand to gain from vouchers didn't help.

Next we heard radio ads that were probably not from the official voucher campaign team, but, nevertheless, tried to tie vouchers to Book of Mormon scriptures. Then we were treated to an epistle from those in the epicenter of the movement that said vouchers were really a 19th century Utah educational program.

This, of course, allowed voucher opponents to compare vouchers to polygamy and blood atonement.

And we haven't even come yet to what many are calling the campaign "sleaze factor": the use and manipulation of news stories in the campaign ads of the pro-voucher side.

Everybody knows the governor was a lot more voucher-friendly in front of Republican state delegates than he is in front of reporters or the public in general. The voucher campaigners are so eager to tie themselves to the governor's favorable ratings (even as they curse his fence-sitting in private) that they don't even tell him they are filming his press conference with a plan to cherry-pick the phrases to make him look like the nation's number one voucher advocate.

Less than a week later, KSL Channel 5's news director is complaining that the voucher campaign has sent out a large postcard cherry-picking and misrepresenting a Richard Piatt news story and falsely claiming a KSL endorsement.

Don't misunderstand my position. Just because I'm against these tactics doesn't mean I'm against choice in education. In fact, I led the 1988 Initiative C which made it to the ballot with the title "Tax Credits for Private Education."

We had about a half-million dollars spent against us, mostly from the teachers' unions. We spent about $500 and lost, but probably not by a much-worse margin than is likely ahead for the million-dollar-plus campaign.

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* FORMER CONGRESSMAN MERRILL COOK lives in Salt Lake City.

 

 

 

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