1) Utah Voucher Referendum Pre-Mortem. If Referendum 1 is defeated tomorrow, it will be a very long time before Utah parents will be able to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools. And if Referendum 1 defies the pollsters and wins tomorrow… it will be a very long time before Utah parents will be able to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools.
An unexpected loss would only mean a change of venue from the ballot box to the courtroom for the teachers' unions. Litigation could tie up the program for years. But I'm pretty sure that if voucher supporters lose, they are not going to announce on Wednesday that they are opening a chain of charter schools, or campaigning for performance pay, or demanding an end to seniority.
Utahns are learning what Californians, Michiganders, and Coloradans learned before them. A school voucher ballot initiative is an existential battle for the teachers' unions. You can't match their firepower, and asymmetric tactics are overwhelmed. (Someone once wrote, "There is nothing quite as asymmetric as a tank driving over an infantryman.")
Therein lies the answer to why voucher initiatives fail, and fail badly. Voucher supporters are devoted and committed, but their union opponents are all that plus desperate. Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com who is largely funding Referendum 1, will not lose customers if it fails. But the Utah Education Association, as it currently exists, will gradually lose power, influence and members under a statewide voucher system.
And it's not just the voucher campaign that fails to match the unions' intensity. For the most part, the average Utah voter doesn't seem to understand how his state became a Manichaean battleground for school choice. The disconnect is apparent from the polls. After months of unprecedented spending in the millions by both sides, the numbers haven't even inched in either direction. It reminds me of California's Proposition 5 in 1998, which was a $100+ million ballot initiative battle between the state's Indian tribes and Nevada gaming interests over casino gambling. I think. Because although we were inundated with campaign ads, not too many Californians had any idea what it was all about.
The disconnect is also apparent from the campaign funding. The yes side received almost all of its money from Byrne, his family, and organizations with which he is connected in some way. The no side received almost all of its money from NEA, its affiliates, and organizations and individuals directly connected with them.
It's pretty simple. Most voters don't have kids in school. The voucher program directly benefits parents with kids in school. You have to make a pretty compelling case to even get the attention of the majority of voters. Then you have to persuade them that the current situation is bad enough to require an out for parents of school-age kids. This is a tough argument to make statewide in Utah.
The unions, with the benefit of being on the "no" side, are in the same position as defense attorneys. They don't have to prove anything, just raise reasonable doubt. It works against unions when they are on the "yes" side.
I'm no campaign consultant, but it's obvious to me that persuading voters to support your position is a separate undertaking from effectively standing up to union opposition. One does not necessarily assure the other. To win, you have to do both.
2) Latest Union Campaign Contribution Numbers in Utah. I know you are all prepared for the shocking truth that, just as EIA reported exclusively on August 20, NEA did in fact contribute $3 million to the Utah Education Association's anti-voucher campaign, despite months of avoiding the question. Still, the latest figures from the Utah lieutenant governor's office still need further analysis since, as difficult as it may be to believe, many Utah media outlets are unaware that all these organizations are satellites of NEA.
Here are the numbers, in size order:
* As of October 30, NEA dropped $3,149,404.28 on the anti-voucher effort, consisting of the aforementioned $3 million grant from the union's national ballot initiative fund, and most of the rest as payments to NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin and his law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser.
* Next came $336,012.50 from Communities for Quality Education which, despite my best efforts since its formation in 2004 (originally named America Learns), continues to operate with impunity without reporters any the wiser of its being NEA-owned and operated.
* The numbers are a little unclear because of the pass-throughs from NEA, but it appears the Utah Education Association spent $239,901.95 of its own funds on the campaign. I don't know if this includes money from the state union's regional UniServs or not.
* Next is NEA state affiliate money - $50,000 from the California Teacher Association, $25,000 from MEA-MFT in Montana, $7,500 from the Washington Education Association, $5,000 each from the Colorado Education Association, Illinois Education Association, Kentucky Education Association, New Jersey Education Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association, and Ohio Education Association, $2,000 from the Connecticut Education Association, $1,000 each from the Maine Education Association, Maryland State Teachers Association, NEA Alaska, Oregon Education Association, and South Dakota Education Association. The Wyoming Education Association added $1,003.50.
* An additional $1,260 came from the NEA Member Benefits Corporation, and $16,228.40 from the Utah School Employees Association, which is affiliated with NEA, but not UEA. AFT Utah contributed $10,302.73.
* Many individual donors are recognizable as union officers, including $1,000 each from NEA Government Relations Director Diane Shust and UEA Executive Director Susan Kuziak, and $500 from NEA Secretary-Treasurer Lily Eskelsen.