What You’ll See on the Ballot in November 2014

We hear a lot lately about our “do nothing” congress, but are we “do nothing” voters? The irony of low approval ratings in a democracy is that the government more or less reflects the people it governs. That means that change must start with you as an individual voter.

There are great arguments for political ignorance as rational, but none for it being moral. The problem is the time it takes to get educated. I’ve tried to deconstruct the ballot to make it a little easier. I will try to provide fair as well as simple explanations. My time, like yours, is limited, so I’m just covering the races that I will vote in. If you would like to contribute information on other races, get in touch with me and we’ll work something out.

I usually start with browsing the Voter Information Pamphlet.

U.S. House of Representatives

In District 1, the options are Donna McAleer, Dwane A. Vance, Rob Bishop, and Craig Bowden. Here is a news story that covered the debate: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/58433802-90/bishop-utah-mcaleer-debate.html.csp

Bishop expects to become chair of the Natural Resources Committee, which be believes would allow him to make progress on federal lands management. Why this matters: The federal government owns around 2/3 of the state. Normally landowners pay taxes, which, in Utah, go into the education fund. In the case of the federal government, we have no authority to force them to pay taxes. Instead they pay PILT–a much lower amount than an actual taxpayer. Sometimes congress just chooses not to fund PILT and we get less than we expect or no payment at all.

Bishop’s opponents argue that it is just time for change. Bishop seemed to indicate that he might be finished after his 5 year chairmanship is up. The debate gives you a pretty good idea of the differences.

In case you’re interested, here are the videos from the debates for all the Districts (find your district here):

1st District

2nd District

3rd District

4th District

Utah Attorney General

Trials for former Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff are in the early stages. The charges involve corruption including bribery. Although both are innocent until proven guilty, the allegations alone have put the sanctity of the office at issue for the candidates.

Charles Stormont is challenging his boss, Sean Reyes, for the office. Stormont argues that Reyes hasn’t done enough to put reforms in place. Reyes argues if there was ever a “for sale” sign on the office, that sign now reads “beware of dog.”

Here’s where they disagree: Reyes believes he has a duty to defend all state laws when they are challenged. Stormont thinks there is a difference between offering political advice and offering sound legal advice and wouldn’t waste taxpayer money defending an unconstitutional law. Reyes responds that the attorney general can’t pick and choose to defend laws based on politics or even odds of success–every law deserves a vigorous defense. If you can take a side in that debate, I think you’ve made your decision.

Here is the debate video.

Davis County Commissioner Seat A

Andersen is challenging Millburn for the seat. Last election he got 31.1 percent of the ballots, so it was actually a pretty close race.

Andersen argues that the county commissioners are overpaid and raised concerns about the county transitioning from a “pay as you go” philosophy to taking on debt. We now have $50 million in unfunded debt. Millburn denies that figure and points out that Davis has been recognized as a frugal county.

Andersen bills himself as a moderate democrat and understands that being a democrat in Davis County carries a stigma he’ll have to overcome. He argues for more transparency in county expenditures and budgeting.

Millburn narrowly won the primary election but there was no indication that anyone was particularly displeased with his performance. He argues for fiscal responsibility balanced with economic development. He is also interested in continuing to pursue transportation projects that will aid economic development

Davis County Commissioner Seat B

This race is much quieter than the race for Seat A. Smith is a heavy favorite, but Udy raises some good points about air quality and growing concerns over the water supply. Mcfarlane is billing himself as an outsider to the institution who will shake things up. His primary interest is in advancing greater choice in education but he also included stopping illegal immigration as a priority (this seemed strange to me at the county level).

Board of Education

Breck England narrowly got on the ballot after the nominating committee eliminated him. He may have withdrawn.

Mark H. Bouchard sets out three objectives: (1) setting high standards is necessary for Utah students to compete not only in post-high School environments but also the workforce, (2) more attention on the pre-k and K-6 segment of education especially Language Arts and Mathematics, and (3) more attention to counseling from grade 7 on.

Lara Collier’s three priorities are: local control with parent involvement, technology and highly qualified teachers, and increased graduation rates.

Constitutional Amendments

You can find the full arguments here.

Amendment A

This amendment removes the requirement that no more than two members of the four-person Tax Commission be from the same party. It also moves the qualifications for members to a statute (which are easier to modify than the constitution).

Supporters argue that the commission’s role is adjudicative, so ideology doesn’t play a role in their decisions–expertise is all that matters.

Opponents argue that this is an important check that ensures that a dominant ideology cannot overpower the others.

The question boils down to whether you believe that politics has an impact on the decisions of tax commissioners. If politics do matter, then there are strong arguments for keeping the commission balanced and we should vote no. If politics don’t matter, then expertise should be the only consideration and we should vote yes.

Here is an overview of what the commission does. One study suggests that tax administration does have political ties and is prone to corruption.

A casual search of decisions where the commission voted 2-2 didn’t show a clear pattern that would suggest that the Republicans always vote together. Moreover, their decisions are reviewed by the Utah appellate courts.

Here are some recent cases:

Deciding whether there was an error that required a tax refund.

Deciding what “taxable property” is.

Deciding when a well is started for purposes of tax exemptions.

Their tie votes included:

Whether a taxpayer was delinquent and should have their business license revoked.

Whether a taxpayer qualified for certain exemptions.

All appear to be matters of interpretation of the tax code where Republicans and Democrats wouldn’t disagree or where Republicans are just as likely to disagree with other Republicans as they are to disagree with Democrats on the subject. The voting appears to bear that out.

Amendment B

Currently, if a lieutenant governor were to step down, the replacement would be subject to an election even if the governor’s term still has time left. It is possible, that this replacement could lose the election and we would have a governor and lieutenant from different parties.

This amendment would ensure that the governor and lieutenant governor are always elected together. Opponents argue that an election as soon as possible is important. Supporters argue that candidates have always run together because it’s in the Utah Constitution. This amendment just fixes an oversight.

Amendment C

The Attorney General is currently the legal advisor for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Auditor, and Treasurer. The governor already has the right to hire outside counsel. This amendment lets the other officers have the same right.

Supporters argue that there could be instances where there is a conflict of interest between these officials, so the Attorney General would not be able to represent all of them. Likewise, this gives them the ability to investigate the Attorney General’s office using independent counsel.

Opponents argue that conflicts of interest are already accounted for and gives too much authority to the lesser officials. They argue that the only problem to be solved is a hypothetical question of conflict of interest and this solution is broader than necessary to solve that problem. Moreover, we already have a process in place to solve it.

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