Democrats could capitalize on voucher defeat

Utah Democrats might be on the upswing.

After voters rejected school vouchers in Tuesday’s referendum vote, political observers said the state Democratic party could benefit from the momentum of a successful anti-voucher campaign.

Panelists who spoke at the U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics “Who Won and Why” forum on Wednesday said the voucher defeat could help the Democrats challenge Republican dominance in Utah and possibly win additional seats in the Utah State Legislature next fall.

“This could be a moment for the Democrats to make up some seats, but again it’s always seat by seat, so a wave doesn’t mean as much as you think because redistricting…takes a lot of impact out of a wave,” said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute.

The voucher bill, which Republican leadership pushed, narrowly passed in the Legislature last spring and would have used tax dollars to provide scholarships to families that want to send their children to private schools.

“If (the Democrats are) smart they’re going to hammer this issue,” The Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly said.

Although the panelists said the voucher issue has given Democrats a resurgence, they said the ability of Democrats to capitalize on the voucher defeat will depend on a variety of factors.

For instance, Jowers, Romney’s supporter, said the 2008 presidential election could influence state elections. If Mitt Romney, CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympic and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wins the Republican nomination, he said Utah Republicans and the declining “Republican brand” could benefit from the image of a candidate like Romney.

The panel said the voucher defeat could also impact members of the Republican leadership in the Legislature, particularly House Speaker Greg Curtis.

“I think it’s gonna have a great impact on the upcoming legislative session, now (the Republicans) won’t introduce a new (voucher bill), but it’s going to have impact on who’s leader,” pollster Dan Jones said.

Jowers said the issue could hurt Curtis in next year’s election.

“I’ve heard already that there were brochures and other things going out to make him accountable for that,” he said.

Whether or not Democrats benefit from the voucher defeat, Rolly said the vote sends a message to lawmakers who ignored polls showing public opposition to vouchers.

“I think the Legislature maybe got a wake-up call that maybe they need to listen to their constituents a little bit more (and) that just being Republican doesn’t make them that secure,” he said.

[email protected]