Posts Tagged ‘gary herbert’

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.

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.

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

Attack of the voucher bodysnatchers – Second Round

News has filtered through of the hostile takeover by PCE (Parents for Choice in Education) at the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools (UAPCS).  It seems that having squandered nearly a million dollars of Other People’s Money to turn Utah into a petri dish for the destruction of public education through vouchers (and failing at the task), PCE has decided to take a different tack, bodysnatching boards that might prove useful in its ultimate goal: bankrupting the public education system completely so that homeschoolers, wingnuts and education profiteers can fill the void.

Filling the void worked very well financially for Blackwater’s mercenaries in Iraq and New Orleans, and there’s a reason we mention that.  Erik Prince, who leveraged his father’s auto parts fortune to make an even bigger one for himself as the military privateer in charge of Blackwater, or Xe as it is now called, is the brother of Betsy DeVos who is married to Dick DeVos, of the Amway fortune.  Betsy and Erik’s mom Elsa also fancies herself a philanthropist and according to Betsy, the family is the biggest “soft-money” contributor to the Republican party.  But where the Princes and DeVoses are concerned, we’re talking wingnut republicans.  Which leads naturally to Utah, the cradle of wingnuttery.

Betsy is all about the kids now, and one of her many pet PACs is called All Children Matter (ACM).  ACM was PCE’s biggest donor between 2004 and 2008, and PCE in turn spent the DeVos/Prince money judiciously, on pro-voucher candidates in the Utah Legislature, among other things.  They also bought t-shirts and other goodies for Milton Witt.

Astute followers of the new anti-democratic process for winnowing the field of state school board candidates will recall that Milton Witt was one of three names recently sent to Governor Herbert by the governor anointed appointed committee: to be placed on the ballot for District 9.  Heaven forbid that the people themselves decide.  The other two were Daniel Steven Isham and Joel Coleman.  Joel Coleman is married to Kim Coleman who was fired as principal of Monticello Academy and then turned around and tried to sue the State of Utah. Isham is the 26 year old assistant custodian who would like to one-up Arizona by demanding immigration documents from six-year-olds as a way of cutting down on class sizes.  Remember, the governor only has to choose two from this stellar crew.  Denis Morrill, far and away the most qualified candidate, was eliminated by secret ballot at an open meeting of the committee – a combination that can only occur in the world capital of passive aggressivity.

And now we see part two of the bodysnatching scheme.  With the sudden unexpected appearance of two slots on the board of the nonprofit UAPCS, PCE revved its engines.  It had two accomplices on the board already: Mark Cluff and Lincoln Fillmore, both PCE board members.

Conflict? What conflict?!

Fillmore had an especially tight relationship with PCE, having done nearly $40,000 in political consulting for them in 2005 and 2006, while he was also pocketing profits from his charter school consulting business, Charter Solutions.  The conflicts boggle the mind, but in Utah, conflicts have a way of escaping people’s attention, particularly when they pertain to oneself.

So what’s the answer to having one conflicted board member?  Why, add another!  With virtually no notice to the actual members of the association, Jed Stevenson, another charter school consultant who encourages people to think of his Academica West business like a “district” was nominated by Cluff and Fillmore to fill one of the UAPCS vacancies.  Stevenson is a PCE Trustee.  Robyn Bagley, last seen losing a desperate campaign for legislature against Karen Morgan of Cottonwood Heights, was the other person proposed for the second vacant slot.  Bagley, the self-professed “stay-at-home mom” is a politically ambitious person who appears to be padding her resume with as many board memberships as possible (to leap on board Mitt Romney’s corsair in 2012?), so in addition to serving on the board of Open High School of Utah, she is naturally, PCE’s board chair.

After a rushed phone consultation with the remaining UAPCS board members, Bagley and Stevenson were hastily appointed to the vacant slots by the rest of the board.  It would be up to the UAPCS membership to confirm or reject them as board members at the annual member vote in May.

"Stop the vote!"

But the annual member vote would never happen.  The new PCE majority launched its first shot across the bow at the April UAPCS member meeting, where Board Chair Mark Cluff announced that there was some new appalling problem with the UAPCS bylaws that no-one had ever noticed, and that the time it would take to fix it would preclude any member vote until the fall.  There were objections from other members present.  And then the meeting time ran out.

May’s member meeting rolled around and again, Cluff explained that the liability, the terrible, agonizing liability of the wretched bylaws had pre-empted the vote.  He thanked Jed Stevenson, the 2002 graduate of the fourth-tier California Western School of Law with the suspended Utah Bar license for discovering the problem.

Cap’n Winitzky, soon to be forced to walk the plank by the PCE pirates who’d commandeered his ship, read his own prepared statement, denying that he’d called anyone to revolution, and reiterated his support for the Association.  Two weeks later he was gone, followed by the Association’s bookkeeper, Prasad Boppana.  Kim Frank, who’d served as the accidental UAPCS lobbyist while being married to Craig Frank, the accidental legislator from Pleasant Grove, whose contempt for Utah’s slim legislators’ ethics laws was so great that he never bothered to list charter schools on his conflict of interest form, stepped in as Interim Director.  Craig Frank had also been a beneficiary of PCE largesse although the contributions to his campaign account were minor in comparison to others.

And so, the vote stopped along with the music, at an association that started out looking for ways to share resources and best practices to improve public education.  Having convinced certain charter schools in the association that they’d literally get more bang for their buck by spending more time playing the political game and less time worrying about self-improvement, PCE now has a board majority at the UAPCS, and who knows, maybe even a significant portion of the membership ready to enlist in the second round of the voucher wars.

The only remaining question is whether the charter schools who are members of the UAPCS fully understand that the UAPCS is now a zombie driven by the parasite within, nothing more.  And when the zombie walks them to the precipice, will they obey?