GUNNISON—A wave of far-right political action committees (PACs) is seeking to shift the direction of education policy in Utah, but the groups aren’t open about what they’re doing, says Kim Pickett, member of the South Sanpete School Board, who recently ran for the Utah State Board of Education.
“All these groups were very successful in getting their candidates through the convention,” he said. “They lined up a lot of delegates, and I have no problem with that.”
Delegates who voted at the Utah State Republican Convention on April 23 were nominated at local caucus meetings weeks earlier.
Prior to the caucuses, Pickett said, the PACs recruited supporters to attend the meetings and volunteer to be state delegates, a perfectly legitimate political activity.
What Pickett does have a problem with is that the PACs have not been transparent about their process for endorsing candidates, and he recommends that voters do their research when aligning with PACs and selecting candidates to support.
“I have no problem with [organizations] endorsing who they will,” Pickett said, “but these groups weren’t objective in evaluating who they were going to endorse.”
The Utah Platform Republicans PAC did not send all the candidates their pre-convention questionnaire. They sent Pickett a questionnaire, but he learned that candidates the PAC endorsed didn’t seem to receive one.
Pickett feels his answers to the PAC’s questions should have led the organization to support him, since he considers himself to be a staunch conservative.
But Pickett was voted out of the Utah State Republican Convention on April 23 when his opponent, Emily Green from Cedar City, received 67.65% of the vote.
“I don’t want to sound like sour grapes,” Pickett said, and “I don’t have anything against Emily,” even though she is new to politics.
Pickett believes PACs like the Utah Platform Republicans had something against him because of his extensive experience being on a school board and working in Republican politics, experience that would ordinarily be a plus in seeking a seat on the statewide board.
Prior to the state convention, the Utah Platform Republicans used a rating system of dark green for highly approve, light green for approve, white for neutral, yellow for disapprove, and red for highly disapprove. Pickett’s original rating with the Utah Platform Republicans PAC was light green, but it was changed to white right before the convention for without a reason being stated, he said.
Pickett is also concerned that a group called Americans for Prosperity is too focused on the needs of charter schools and home schooling. The organization does not want schools to accept any federal funding, something that BYU seeks to maintain.
But in a public-school setting, Pickett doesn’t think such a goal is realistic when you consider that school districts rely on federal funds in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities and similar laws and mandates.
“I won’t support any group that thinks they have the answer to everything,” he said.
When Pickett was first elected to the South Sanpete School Board, he expected to solve lots of problems single-handedly. But he quickly learned that the problems he had observed from the outside looking in were more complicated than he realized.
When he learned to rely on the experience of more seasoned board members, he was able to get a broader picture of the situation and develop more solutions that everyone could get on board with.
He said the experience reminds him of when he was a boy. His father asked him to build furrows in the hayfield with his little tractor. To reach the field, Pickett took a shortcut across another farmer’s field that was still wet from getting irrigated, even though he had been told not to.
Pickett was proud of himself for making it through the mud, but the farmer was furious when he saw the damage the tractor tires had done to his crop.
Sometimes it takes going around a problem instead of straight through it, he explained.
“Being on a board is all about building coalitions and building consensus,” Pickett said. “We must represent the whole community.”
Pickett said the conservative PACs’ support of lesser-known candidates instead of seasoned candidates with years of experience on school boards suggests that “they didn’t evaluate candidates based on their experience.
“I think there is a vast value in having experience on a board,” Pickett said.