Margaret Dayton’s message to children living with Utah’s notoriously filthy air: Suck it up!

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’

‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Once upon a time, we remember a legislative process where legislators did not treat public comment as a formality to be endured and then ignored.  But that was then.  This is now.

Take, for example, Wednesday’s meeting of the Utah Legislature’s House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

SB21, a naked attempt to transform Utah’s already weak Department of Environmental Quality into a plain dictatorship answering to industrial polluters, was last on the agenda.  Naturally, SB21 was drafted by the Utah Mining and Manufacturer’s Association, and sponsored by Margaret Dayton, whose dislike of regulation is matched only by her inability to understand it.  The bill allows the permitting process to be concentrated in the hands of a single person – currently Amanda Smith, the DEQ’s Executive Director who makes Dianne Nielson, her notoriously weak predecessor, look like Ralph Nader.  Smith, evidently attracted by the thought of all that power heading her direction, spoke in favor of the bill.  The DEQ Executive Director is appointed by the governor, and considering that Governor Herbert also likes the idea of bringing more and hotter nuclear waste to Utah, well, you can see where this is going.

Margaret Dayton's model?

Margaret Dayton trained as a nurse, for heaven’s sake.  She’s married to a doctor.  What kind of medical professionals are blissfully unconcerned about the suffering of Utah’s children when industrial pollution combined with climate inversions already create the worst air quality in the entire nation?

Nevertheless, despite the impassioned and articulate pleas from a number of public representatives – among them Christopher Thomas of HEAL Utah, Cherise Udell of Utah Moms for Clean Air, Karen Hevel-Mingo of Breathe Utah, and the tireless public advocate Claire Geddes – to reject the bill, the legislative Committee made a show of tolerating their testimony* before briskly voting as a bloc, sending the bill out of committee nearly unanimously.  “I swear, it’s the Stepford legislature,” Geddes told us.  “They vote with their friends, not their constituents.” Joel Briscoe was the lone voice of reason, actually engaging in some reflection before opposing the bill.

* The stiff upper lip contingent does not count Dayton herself or Representative Noel, who took the whole exercise somewhat personally, calling the public input “reprehensible impugning” and complaining about the bother of being a legislator – to which we have a simple suggestion – GO HOME.

Jeb Bush and Robyn Bagley team up on SB 65 shakedown

The Gravy Train Copy Desk

Last spring and summer while I watched Robyn Bagley’s feverish moves to take over the Utah Association for Public Charter Schools I guessed that she was angling for a leap on board Mitt Romney’s corsair in 2012, but now I’ve changed my mind.  Let’s be serious.  Neither Romney nor Huntsman have any chance anyway, except maybe in Jeb’s cabinet.  No, now I’m placing my bets on Bagley for Bush.  We had the Bagley organized Bush roadshow here last August, and now we have Bagley and Bush teaming up on SB 65, “the best K-12 online learning policy in the country…setting the standard for the rest of the nation.”

It was very kind of Bagley and Bush to send me a copy of Bush’s op-ed on SB 65 for copyediting.  Thanks!  My copy edits are shown in red.  The op-ed was co-signed by former West Virginia governor Bob Wise (D).   Are you getting yet that the for-profit education industry is a bipartisan project?

An Op-Ed from Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise

Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise have written this Op-Ed as Utah legislators are considering the expansion of digital learning.

Wednesday, the Utah Senate passed legislation that will put Utah and its students at the forefront of K-12 Digital learning policy in the country. open the pockets of Utah’s taxpayers to out of state digital education providers. Unleashing the power of technology in education expands access to high quality education regardless of a student’s language, zip code, income levels or special needs which is why Utah has made its Electronic High School available to students throughout the state free of charge since 1994.

As Governors, we learned firsthand the high stakes when it comes to preparing students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and careers. Digital learning has the power to transform education to address the individual needs of students in a way never before possible, as Utah’s free Electronic High School has proven.

To that end, this year we launched Digital Learning Now, a national lobbying campaign to define the elements of funnel public school monies from hard-pressed school districts to the for-profit digital learning industry and advocate for the policies that will assist states with integrating current and future technological innovations into K-12 public education as a cover for the destruction of public education.

Digital learning can customize and personalize education so all students learn in their own style and at their own pace, maximizing their chances for success in school and beyond. With digital learning, every student from rural communities to inner cities, can access high-quality and rigorous courses in every subject, including foreign languages, math and science.

Digital learning can also be the catalyst for transformational change in education. It is a tool that can address the myriad some of the challenges faced by schools, community leaders, and policy makers.

With access to multiple online course providers Utah’s free Electronic High School, students in even the most remote areas can connect with high-quality college – and career – prep courses taught by highly qualified teachers who do not work inside their school building or even, home school. These options EHS can be a powerful tool for teachers who are facing the challenge of meeting a variety of student needs. They can connect communities to a vast network of resources that will help their students compete and succeed in the global economy.

With online and digital learning, Utah high school students will be able to customize their education to better meet their academic goals and prepare them for post-secondary education, vocational and careers.  More options, better questionable outcomes, reduced increased costs—it’s a great horrible deal for Utah’s students, schools, and taxpayers.  But a great one for Robyn Bagley and Howard Stephenson.

Utah is on the verge of establishing gutting the best K-12 online learning policy in the country and setting the standard for the rest of the nation.  We are watching with great admiration and enthusiasm.

Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida 19992007, future U.S. president

Bob Wise, Governor of West Virginia 2001-2005, professional board member

Were Foxley & Pignanelli guarding Governor Herbert’s henhouse last weekend?

Teethmarks and Taliban

Thinking some more about what happened with Governor Herbert’s sudden vanishing act on HB 477, the bill to gut Utah’s freedom of information (GRAMA) law and conceal government records from the public, a couple of curious things come to mind.

1. Paul Rolly’s column.  Rolly claims that the Republican legislators who planned the HB 477 blitzkrieg told him that they’d checked it out with the Governor beforehand and he was down with their plan, until a day later, when he “threw them under the bus.”  According to Rolly, “the more [Herbert] learned…the more uncomfortable he became.”  Quick translation: the more the public and media started to scream, the more uncomfortable Herbert became. Until he hatched a plan to take off the heat.  Or because, let’s face it, the Accidental Governor is not that bright, someone hatched one for him.

2. Rolly says that legislators changed their minds on Monday when they learned that Herbert had decided that delaying the bill’s enactment date would give him cover.  And so, the legislators who felt they’d been thrown under the bus decided to roll over and help him?  Public clamor doesn’t bother these people in the least.  Something doesn’t add up.

3. The ad.  Tuesday morning, a full page ad basically endorsing the fake resolution to the crisis appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, headlined “A Break in the Clouds”.  The Trib‘s printing deadline would have been sometime early Monday afternoon.  At the latest.  Management had to approve the concept, someone had to create the ad, and management had to sign off on the finished product.  Consider the timeline.

It’s not impossible that the Trib didn’t find out about the fake fix until the same time Monday morning as the legislators who felt thrown under the bus and then – if you believe what you are being told – not only decided to lie there but also decided to help drive the bus over themselves.  Just completely implausible.  I think the Trib knew about the deal to pass the bill by Sunday night at the latest.  Being on Foxley & Pignanelli’s client roster (Utah Media Coalition, Utah Press Association), why wouldn’t they?

The ad that didn’t run

Let’s consider for a moment the ad the Tribune could have run but didn’t.  Instead of heralding the governor’s slithering out the back door as a “break in the clouds,” the Tribune could have run an ad that said “Hey!  Where do you think you’re going?  Grow a pair and pick up the veto pen!”  Well, not that exactly – we’re in Utah after all – but something like it.  The “break in the clouds” is your tipoff.  The Tribune actually saw this – the passing of the bill with a promise to tweak it later – as a good thing.  Who would have sold them on that idea?  There are your Foxley/Pignanelli* teethmarks.

Plus, Foxley and Pignanelli are veterans of the 2000 holy war over HB 320 which granted a bonanza to the utilities by depriving citizens of representation in ratemaking.  Lots of people have forgotten, but I’m guessing these two haven’t, and they know perfectly well that the strategy on HB 477 is nothing new, because it’s exactly the same as that for 320.  HB 320 was passed with a delayed enactment date, fake negotiations ensued, and the bill became law, as planned.  After a HUGE fight, it was repealed, a miraculous event that will not be repeated here because a very different crew is in control now, Utah’s homegrown Taliban.  They Don’t Care What You Want.

Roadkill

So I take back what I said about Pignanelli pretend negotiating on HB 477 between now and July.  (Not the part about being a cream puff though.)  I think all the negotiating was done by last weekend, and Herbert is really a bigger fool than most people already assume.  By accepting the “break in the clouds” presented to him as his escape route, he managed to alienate both sides – the legislative wingnuts who are were his core support, and the public that was (and remains) pissed off with him to begin with.  The wingnuts may say they feel thrown under the bus, but when all is said and done, they’ll get their bill.  The real roadkill will be Herbert.

Herbert, and the public’s right to government transparency.  The really sad thing is that if my hunch is correct, it wasn’t even the governor who sold out the public but the Salt Lake Tribune and its crack lobbying team.  And now they have the nerve to suggest that the public fix what they screwed up?  That takes balls.

* Doug Foxley and Frank Pignanelli are Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough alumni who run a Republican/Democrat lobbying firm a la Matalin/Carville, Foxley being Matalin and Pignanelli being Carville.  Without the humor.  The genius behind such a pairing is the ability to play both sides down the middle.

Reborn convicted felon Michael Milken betting on Utah’s SB 65

K-12 Training for Public School Looters sign at Utah's Capitol, March 8, 2011

Once a thief….

There is no greater proof that the United States of America is the land of second chances than the for-profit education company known as K-12, partially financed by convicted felon Michael Milken.  With his eagle eye for a quick buck (and what better revenge than to extract money from the very citizens who convicted him the first time around?), Mike and his brother Lowell (and other rapacious sorts) are zeroing in on the public education treasury, under the guise of “school choice.”

The National Coalition for Public School Options (NCPSO) is K-12’s national “grassroots” lobbying organization.  It’s what Utah’s Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) tried to do on the local level, but failed, hence the takeover of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools with its UCAN (Utah Charter Advocacy Network) mailing list.  Why re-invent the wheel when you can steal one?

K-12 was hard at work yesterday at Utah’s capitol building, training marks parents to provide lobbying support for public school looting bills like Howard Stephenson’s SB 65, Merlynn Newbold’s HB 301 & 313 and immigration dimwit Chris Herrod’s HB 388.

Meanwhile, anybody want a rooster?  Because PCE can help you get one (scroll down).  Whether you get a House or Senate rooster, keep in mind that this year’s crop is especially ill-tempered, but that opens certain betting possibilities.  Why should Mike Milken have all the fun?


Salt Lake Tribune rolls over and takes a nap on HB 477

"That Becky Lockhart sure makes great cigars!!"

What in the world are the editors at the Salt Lake Tribune smoking?

Yesterday afternoon they published a ludicrous article filed by reporter Lee Davidson under the headline: Legislature votes to delay open records law changes.  Davidson, working together with Robert Gehrke and David Montero collected copious quotes from legislators who all support the bill (HB 477) to conceal government records from the public, and not a single one from anyone who can see this maneuver exactly for what it is, a tried and true tactic that will leave HB 477 in place while handing a fig leaf to the governor in order to avoid a veto.

The public isn’t fooled – as of this moment, 282 acid comments have been posted by readers below the Tribune‘s story with more coming in every second – so what exactly is the problem with the Tribune‘s editors?

Once again, I’ll try to make it simple.

1. HB 477 has passed. Continue reading

Howard Stephenson and PCE’s Judi Clark, pushing the vouchers you can’t refuse

Don Corleone

Virtual Vouchers and the key to the public treasury

Early in 2010 when the Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) pirates began planning their 2011 campaign to sneak education vouchers through Utah’s back door, they knew they’d need a little more than a hijacked charter school association and a lobbying hitman to get their legislation passed.  Two strategies were crucial.  The first would be to split their wishlist into as many different moving targets as possible, but the second would be to have a legislator who could be trusted to shepherd the whole project to conclusion.

Utah Sen. Howard Stephenson - photo: Brian Nicholson, Des. News

After Sheldon Killpack, the Utah legislator and charter school go-to guy was suddenly indisposed last spring, PCE would be forced to turn to Utah’s lobbyist/legislator godfather, next to whom PCE/UAPCS lobbyist Chris Bleak is a mere piker.  I’m talking of course, about Howard Stephenson.

Stephenson, the Utah Taxpayer Association Don who is famous for never having seen a piece of pro-business legislation he didn’t like, and whose answer to the immigration debate is a full-employment act for bounty hunters funded by the runaway slaves themselves, wasted no time.  With PCE’s Judi Clark doing the drafting and Killpack’s abandoned campaign war-chest to draw from (Killpack donated an astonishing $4,000 to Stephenson in 2010), the result was a fistful of bills friendly to charters and hostile to school districts. Continue reading

Utah legislators Greg Hughes & John Dougall: BFFs setting up the Real Gravy Train at UTA

Word on the street is that the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) Board is the hot place to be in these recessionary times.

Business is hard all over, especially if you have no knack at all for it to begin with.  UTA Board membership solves that problem.  Board membership means you’ll get inside information on where the next phenomenally useless and costly rail hub will be planted, and if you didn’t buy property in time near the hub, no problem, because your board membership means that you can swing other board members to move the hub closer to where it will benefit you.  No kidding.  This actually has happened.

But what if people were to go, hmm…  Might there be some conflicts here?  We’ve already discussed conflicts in Utah, and how those with the conflicts have an uncanny ability to NOT recognize them, but just in case, Utah Representative and UTA Board Chairman Greg Hughes and Best Friend Forever John Dougall (also Utah rep, just not on the UTA Board, yet) have figured out a solution for that too.

Secrecy is key

Companion bills SB 222 (Sponsor: Bramble) which guts the measly conflict of interest language currently in UTA’s statute, and Dougall’s own HB 477,  which erases public access to government records through the Government Records and Management Act – GRAMA – ensure that UTA board members will have a free pass to profiteer. Continue reading