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GOP Lawmaker Tries to Change State School Board Election Process

A Republican State lawmaker from Bountiful wants to change the way state school board members in Utah are elected to office, and he hopes to leave politics out of the equation. 

Right now, a seven-member committee appointed by the Governor is responsible for vetting state school board candidates. That group sends it’s nominations to the governor who then selects two candidates for each position. House Bill 59, sponsored by State Representative Jim Nielson would get rid of that committee and the governor’s role in process.

Nielson’s bill calls for a direct non-partisan election in conjunction with non-partisan municipal races.

“I will always trust the voters before I will trust an appointed body that wasn’t accountable to anyone, that wasn’t elected,” Nielson says.

Nielson has tried to convince lawmakers to go this route since he took office in 2011. His passion for the issue began in 1997, when his father then GOP State Senator Howard Nielson ran a near-identical bill. That year, Senate Bill 40 passed both houses of the state legislature, only to be vetoed by then Republican Governor Mike Leavitt. Since that time, Nielson says GOP lawmakers namely, have set out to put a “D” or an “R” before a candidate’s name as prerequisite to changing the status quo.   

“While there is a great majority that would like to get rid of the nominating committee, it’s fractured between the group that wants to stay non-partisan and the group that wants it to be partisan,” Nielson says.

Nielson says he hopes many of his GOP colleagues will see that partisan state-school-board elections would be more harmful than a non-partisan approach.

But that may still be a hard sell for some lawmakers, who say a partisan election would ensure only highly-qualified candidates are selected because they’ve gone through Utah’s caucus and convention system.

Nielson announced recently that he will not run for re-election this year. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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