Last week I wrote about a group of Utah business leaders, mostly long-active mainstream Republicans, who have begun pushing back at extreme elements of their party that have pushed an agenda of micro-managing education and demonstrating a distrust of public school teachers.
The group, under their organizational title of Prosperity2020, signed a petition endorsing the multi-state-developed education standards called Common Core, which has been in the cross hairs of the extremist groups, who believe it's a federal government takeover of education in the United States.
I characterized the disparate positions of the two sides as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party and whether the GOP will support and strengthen traditional public education in Utah or tear it down and replace it with a market-based model.
Well, after a few years of tea party surges and a push by the right to move the Legislature toward an isolationist view that distrusts professional educators and experts from other states who are attempting to improve education together, the mainstream seems to be winning.
One reason is that several of the tea-party types who were elected in right-wing surges the past few years came into the Legislature riding the wave of anti-government sentiment rather than winning because of their own talents or credentials.
They quickly took themselves more seriously than the process itself, creating an image of themselves saving the Republic, founding what they called the Patrick Henry Caucus as though they were the only true patriots who would rescue us all and even producing a super-hero-type video featuring, of course, themselves.
Nearly all of them sought higher office after just a short stint in the Legislature and they all failed.
The Patrick Henry Caucus members who unsuccessfully sought higher office and, as a result, have either left or are leaving the Legislature, are former Reps. Carl Wimmer and Steve Sandstrom, and Reps. Ken Sumsion, Craig Frank and Chris Herrod.
They are all being replaced by other Republicans who are conservative, as are most of the signers of the Prosperity2020 petition. But the newcomers are seen by Education First as more willing to work with, rather than against, the interests of public education.
Besides the legislators not returning because of higher political ambitions, several incumbents were defeated in their primaries or conventions by other Republicans, and each case, says Education First, was a victory for public education.
To name a few:
Rep. Evan Vickers, identified as an education supporter, defeated tea party Sen. Casey Anderson, Ed Redd defeated incumbent David Butterfield, who, while seen as a friend to education is being replaced by an even stronger ally, according to Education First.
Rep. Lee Perry, a veteran Highway Patrol officer who has been a strong public education supporter, defeated fellow Republican Rep. Brad Galvez, in a GOP primary after their respective districts were combined by redistricting.
Rich Cunningham, who has stressed the need for adequate education funding, defeated incumbent and tea party favorite Merlynn Newbold in House District 50.
And Merrill Nelson beat strident education micro-manager Bill Wright in House District 68.
Also, says Education First, mainstream candidates came out ahead in six open-seat primaries.
All in all, it looks like the Eagle Forum's Gayle Ruzicka and her conspiracy-theorist allies will have their work cut out for them this coming legislative session.