For wealthy backers of publicly-funded private school vouchers, Utah has been a crucial battleground. Last year, Amway heir (and 2006 candidate for governor of Michigan) Dick DeVos and others poured a hundreds of thousands of dollars of “seed money” into a Utah PAC, Parents for Choice in Education, which set about electing state legislators who would support a voucher plan. While the group has used heavy-handed tactics before – invoking the specter of “illegal aliens” during last year’s campaign – it’s hit a new low with a recent push poll it conducted in an apparent attempt to stir up anti-gay sentiment against opponents of vouchers:
Bill Lee, a Sandy resident, earlier this week received a call he described as “pretty nasty stuff.” He took notes about a portion of the survey he said asks how someone’s vote would be affected knowing the same group that opposes vouchers, the “liberal national teachers’ union,” supports same-sex unions along with higher taxes. Parents for Choice declined to release the survey questions. …
“Many Utahns would be shocked to know the policies and positions promoted by the National Education Association, the parent organization of the UEA,” [Elisa Clements, Parents for Choice’s executive director] said, referencing the Utah Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, which opposes vouchers.
The UEA’s communications director described the tactic as “dirty politics.” “There are absolutely no resolutions dealing with those issues that have been handled by the National Education Association,” Mark Mickelsen said.
Voucher advocates see Utah’s new plan – which will face a referendum this fall – as a potential model for the rest of the nation.