Monday, June 25, 2012

Why I don't like Taz Murray, and why I will give Keven Stratton the benefit of the doubt

In the months prior to this primary, I discovered that I was on the Republican primary mailing list. It's hard to gain a more favorable impression of candidates from these emails, because they are all almost perfect cookie-cutter imitations of each other - each proclaims the candidate's dedication to shrinking our government to the size of Somalia's, mentions the candidate's strong background, business or otherwise, and includes some endorsement or other.

Although it is hard to find "diamond in the rough" candidates from such emails, Taz Murray, our most voluminous writer, made my job of being an informed voter much easier with these two emails, which I have posted below. For someone like me, who had never heard of either candidate until recently, it was especially helpful, and helped begin forming my opinion before I attended the debate a couple of weeks ago, which I will also write about in the post. For now, here is what I found unimpressive about these two emails:

Unimpressive email #1

No Child Left Behind
I will admit that I know very little about how to improve our education system. My gut feeling is that NCLB punishes schools for failing to achieve unrealistic standards, and that we could do much better than that, but you won't see me unveiling a more efficient educational master plan any time soon. Education reform is a complicated subject that I won't go into deeply until I feel like I actually know something about it.

Still, I am a strong supporter of logic, something that Murray's email is severely lacking. Utah falling from 38th place to 41st place is not credible evidence against NCLB's effectiveness. NCLB, whatever you believe it was, either helped all states or hurt all states, which would not have had any influence on Utah's ranking among those states.

Utah: The best and the worst state?
You could tell me that Utah is the very worst state in terms of educational outcomes, or the very best, and I wouldn't know where to find evidence to prove you wrong either way. I am certain, however, that it is not both. I find it rather peculiar that Murray talks about how Utah is falling behind educationally, and then in the same breath, says that despite lower per-capita spending, it has some of the best educational outcomes. Whatever his plans are for "education reform," I don't think he can implement effective reforms until he has his diagnosis correct, which apparently is unlikely to happen.

Unimpressive email #2
I must commend him for his honesty in this one. He immediately declares his conflict of interest, that he owns a candy business. Still, merely acknowledging that "childhood obesity is a serious issue" is a far cry from solving it. While there are many things the private sector does quite well, there are other things that the government does better. Drawing an appropriate analogy, I believe that in our society, we tend to over-medicate, resulting in worse health and higher costs. Also, I would hope that every physician has an appreciation for all of the marvelous things the human body does on its own if given proper nutrition, rest, and exercise. Still, if I get cancer, and my doctor tells me to eat better, exercise more, and let my body take care of the problem, I'm finding a new doctor.

In the case of rising obesity, I am certain that there is room for debate for what the government should do to efficiently and effectively combat this. Still, whatever the government is currently doing to combat obesity is, I am sure, much better than whatever our candy-business owner would propose.

Besides, a state legislator has no clout in this matter anyway.

This was the only debate I attended. I Wish I had more time to write about this before I go, but I think that the exchange between Murray and the moderator at 53 mins. is telling. In a debate, most of the time candidates can make up whatever statistics they choose, and nobody ever calls them out on it. This debate was particularly vulnerable to such fiction, since there will be no Democratic candidate to face. Utah "Democrats" are very different from national Democrats, and if Republican candidates don't even have to think about Utah "Democrats", then I think that gives all of us very real reason to fear what sort of kooks the primary cooks up.

Anyway, I was very pleased to see the moderator politely interject with actual statistics, refuting Murray's claim that Utah's government was growing too fast. Murray was quick to insist that his fictitious statistics were in fact true. As I watched, I could see the cogs turning in the moderator's head. If he insisted that his statistics were correct, he would look like he was taking sides in the debate, which he isn't supposed to do. On the other hand, could he allow a false statistic to govern the debate?

It appears that Murray has the skill - invaluable to being elected - of insisting that you are right and you know everything. He may not have the skill of listening to others, which is absolutely necessary in governing effectively.

Hasty Conclusion
I wish that I could write more, but I really have to go. I can't say much about Stratton except that he hasn't said or written anything super crazy, and seems like a good guy. 

Unimpressive email #1

This email was sent on May 31, 2012

Recently the Deseret News ran an article, “Can US schools adopt education practices of top-performing nations?”  Some of the highlights include current performance statistics compared to Finland, China, Korea, and Canada where US kids score 23rd in science, 17th in reading and 31st in math.  Saddly, Utah ranks 42nd in the US in terms education outcomes. And what of the last federal solution to our ailing education system, No Child Left Behind? NCLB has amounted to little more than a total failure since we have dropped from 41st a year ago and 38th in 2010.
Our children’s education is extremely important to me.
The answer to our education problems that I hear over and over: spend more money. Utah spends the least per student of any state in the nation on education, yet our statistics show we are doing better than other states.  Perhaps the most shocking statistic from the article: the US spends on average approximately TWICE as much per student on education as do Finland, Canada, China and Korea. Yet we are slipping further behind.
What’s the solution?
Unfortunately, we have not given teachers what they need to perform to their full capability.  If there were a clear correlation with spending more money and improving outcomes in education, I would be leading the band for more money.   Let’s quit wasting money on mindless federal mandates like No Child Left Behind and start spending it in the classroom
We need more good teachers in the classroom who are willing to stand accountable.  We have some great teachers now, but we need more. You can argue all day about class size, curriculum, parental support and etc, but a good teacher in the classroom will do more to educate our kids than any other single thing we can do.  We need to start there, in the classroom and work out to see what is preventing us from retaining more good teachers.  
I’m prepared to be a leader in education. I firmly believe that with better management, cutting wasteful spending, giving teachers the tools they need, and targeting our precious dollars wisely we can solidify something we all hold near and dear to our hearts—our children’s future.
Taz Murray

Unimpressive email #2

This email was sent on May 16, 2012

In an address yesterday on the House Floor, Utah Representative Rob Bishop passionately fought for states rights and railed against Federal intrusion into our local schools.  Two Utah schools have been fined a combined total of $35,000 for simply leaving their vending machines plugged in during lunch time.

I agree with Rob when he said. We should allow local schools and parents to decide what's available for lunch and leave the Feds out of it (see his full statement here).

This issue has a direct impact on my own business.  While I agree childhood obesity is a serious issue, I for one am tired of the Fed. continually impeding on our rights as citizens to make our own decisions.
Additionally, these vending proceeds were being used to fund school music and debate programs.  Those local school officials should be applauded, not punished, for finding creative ways to fund programs that are often first on the chopping blocks.

As your representative in the State House, I will fight federal intrusion into our personal lives whenever I can.  Enough is enough.