Now that Utah's voucher bill has gone down to epic, humiliating defeat (67% against vs. 33% in favor), I'm taking a few minutes away from my latest conspiracy theory to think on what that means.
Honestly, what does it mean? On paper, it looks great. The reddest state in the Union overwhelmingly repudiates one of the far-right's most important pet projects, saving itself from the same sort of privatization schemes that brought us Enron, Halliburton, and Blackwater! Go Blue!
I hadn't seen the polls in the run-up to the referendum, and I was sure that voters were going to buy into the "liberal, east-coast unions want to trap your kids in their failing schools" chatter on TV. When state rep. Greg Hughes said, "This is a Ronald Reagan solution, this is a Mitt Romney solution, this is a Governor Huntsman solution... lets trust those we've elected, and let's follow their advice, and let's vote for it," I thought the "follow the prophet" mantra would be convincing to a lot of people.
Something is going on here, something that doesn't jive with my impressions of Utah as a state that is actively hostile to "big government", and a state that wouldn't put much stock in the church-state issues that plaguevoucher proposals. The most kooky, right-wing reason I could think of was "fear of government-funded madrassahs", but that's an argument I never heard. A lot of rural voters voted against it simply because there were no private schools in their areas. The 100+ mile commute was a bit of a dealbreaker for them.
My current theory is that the public school system isn't what most Utahns envision when they think of "big government." I don't mean that in the "keep government's hands off my Medicare" sense, but in the "we're too busy thinking about arrogant political bureaucrats and welfare queens to think about our neighborhood elementary school." Or maybe voters really do recognize the value of the public education system as the foundation of a diverse, egalitarian society.
Let me close with the words of Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne, who donated more money to Parents for Choice in Education than the rest of the country put together: "[Utahns who voted against Referendum 1] don't care enough about their kids. They care an awful lot about this system, this bureaucracy, but they don't care enough about their kids to think outside the box."
He also said that the state failed its IQ test. Can you say "sore loser?"
1) The writer's strike is a transparent attempt by liberal unions to derail Stephen Colbert's presidential campaign.
2) KCPW's vouchers debate, closing arguments. (mp3)
3) Islamic schools with a reputation for backward and anti-Western teachings.