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State Lawmakers Approve Partisan School Board Elections

Brian Grimmett

In 2018, Utah voters will notice a D or an R next to names of candidates running for the state school board. The Utah legislature passed a bill Thursday that will make school board races partisan after the 2016 election.

Senate Bill 78 sponsored by Republican Senator Ann Millner puts an end to years of infighting over how to change Utah’s school board selection process. For the 2016 election cycle, there will be a non-partisan primary for state school board elections. After that, they’ll be partisan. Local school boards will remain non-partisan as they are today.

House Sponsor and Republican Representative Brad Last argued the districts are so large, it’s difficult for candidates to campaign without the support of a political party.

“Candidates who are really interested in running for these offices can get the word out,” Last says. “They can talk to delegates. They can go to the conventions and people can become aware of them. Aware of their philosophy and come to understand or make judgements on what kind of board members they will be.”

In past sessions, the House and Senate have been unable to agree on whether these races should be partisan or not.

But Utah lawmakers were forced to decide this year after U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled the old candidate selection process was unconstitutional.

Switching to partisan races means state school board member Terryl Warner will be ineligible to run for re-election in 2018. She writes and manages federal grants for the Cache County Attorney’s Office and would violate the federal Hatch Act by participating in a political race.

“I believe it will exclude, not only people like me because of my professional responsibilities,” Warner says. “But I’m worried about people that may be independents or they may be not part of the prominent party.”

In order to get on the primary ballot, candidates will have to go through the caucus and convention system or collect 2,000 signatures, or the signatures of 3 percent of registered voters in the district. 

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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