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For first time, there are partisan State School Board candidates on Utah’s general election ballot

Deseret News logo Deseret News 10/27/2020 Marjorie Cortez
a large brick building with grass in front of a house: The Utah State Board of Education building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. © Kristin Murphy, Deseret News The Utah State Board of Education building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time on a general election ballot in Utah, most candidates for the 15-member Utah State Board of Education are running as partisan candidates.

However, just three of nine district races are contested with the others on the general election ballot unopposed because no one filed to run against them or they won their primary election races.

Prior to this year, all seeking election to State School Board ran as unaffiliated candidates.

But in 2016, the Utah Legislature passed a statute that called for partisan State School Board races. At the time, supporters said the process used to select candidates for other elected state-level offices — political party conventions — was a better way to vet candidates for office. In years past, Utah’s governor selected candidates for the races.

The 2016 statute was challenged in court and in 2017, 3rd District Judge Andrew H. Stone ruled that the law conflicted with the Utah Constitution.

Stone’s ruling was appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, where it was overturned in 2019. That paved the way for candidates to file as partisan candidates, although they also may run as unaffiliated candidates. This is the first election cycle since the court ruling.

The impact of partisan State School Board candidates and officeholders is as of yet unclear. Twenty one of 27 candidates for the state board filed for office as Republicans, three as Democrats, one Constitution Party candidate and two unaffiliated. The winners of these races will serve alongside eight unaffiliated board members until the next election cycle.

Four sitting board members — two elected and two appointed — did not file as candidates for office in 2020. Two board members appointed to the board by Gov. Gary Herbert to fill unexpired terms were eliminated from the ballot at convention.

Here’s a look at the slate of candidates and party affiliations or none:

District 3 (portions of Salt Lake, Tooele and Juab counties): Brett Garner (D) and Matt Hymas (R)

Garner, of West Valley City, is a stay-at-home dad of two young boys. Most recently he worked for an internet startup furniture company and has worked for the Utah Heritage Foundation, where he ensured its curriculum-aligned educational materials were available online and he coordinated school tours for Utah students.

Hymas, of Magna, is a director of American Preparatory Academy II, a public charter school in West Valley City. He has worked in Utah schools for more than a decade and holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics teaching and master’s degrees in business administration and education leadership.

Current board member Laurieann Thorpe, who was appointed by Herbert to the District 3 seat and filed for office as a Republican, was eliminated from the ballot at convention.

District 4 (Davis and Weber counties): Brent J. Strate (R), unopposed

Strate, of South Ogden, is also an educator. He teaches U.S. history at Bonneville High School in the Weber School District. He also serves on the South Ogden City Council.

Board member Jennifer Graviet, elected to the District 4 seat in 2016, did not seek reelection.

District 7 (Salt Lake and Summit counties): Carol Barlow Lear (D), unopposed

Lear, an incumbent who resides in Salt Lake City, was elected to her first term on the board in 2016. She is an attorney in private practice who specializes in education law. Earlier in her career, Lear taught high school. Prior to her retirement in 2014, Lear was the state board’s school law director for 26 years.

District 8 (Salt Lake County — Holladay, Murray, Millcreek): Janet Cannon (R) unopposed

Cannon, an incumbent who lives in Holladay, has served multiple terms on the State School Board dating back to 1994. She served seven years as vice chairwoman of the board and also four years on the Utah State Board of Regents. Professionally, Cannon has worked as a speech pathologist.

District 10 (Salt Lake County — Draper, Sandy, Cottonwood Heights): Molly Hart (R), unopposed

Hart, who resides in Sandy, is principal of Albion Middle School in the Canyons School District. She has worked as an educator for more than 20 years as a teacher and administrator.

Shawn Newell, who was named to the District 10 seat by gubernatorial appointment, did not seek election.

District 11 (Salt Lake, Tooele and Utah counties): Natalie Cline (R) and Tony Zani (unaffiliated)

Cline, of Bluffdale, has volunteered in Utah public schools as an accelerated reading specialist. A licensed registered nurse, Cline is the mother of eight grown children in a blended family. Her children were home-schooled and attended public schools.

Zani, of South Jordan, is a public schoolteacher who has taught for two decades in Utah, Kentucky and Virginia. He is a literacy coach in the Salt Lake City School District and is a National Board Certified Teacher with a specialization in early childhood education, one of only about 300 Utah educators who have achieved that certification.

Current board member Mike Haynes, who was appointed by Herbert to the District 11 seat and filed for office as a Republican, was eliminated from the ballot at convention.

District 12 (Utah, Summit, Daggett, Uintah and Wasatch counties): James Moss Jr. (R) and Catherine Rebekah Taylor (Constitution)

Moss, of Midway, is an attorney who specializes in employment and business law. He has served three years on the State Charter School Board as well as the Wasatch High School community council and holds advanced degrees in law and education.

Taylor, of Coalville, has worked in early childhood education for more than 25 years at the preschool, K-12 and college levels. She also works as an emergency responder.

Mark Marsh, who was appointed to the District 12 seat by Gov. Gary Herbert, did not file for election.

District 13 (Utah and Wasatch counties): Randy Boothe (R), unopposed

Boothe, of Spanish Fork, is a full-time faculty member in the BYU School of Music. He also serves on the Nebo Board of Education and filed to run again for that position but later withdrew.

Incumbent Scott Neilson filed for reelection as a Republican candidate but withdrew from the race.

District 15 (Iron and Washington counties): Kristan Norton (R), unopposed

Norton, of St. George, is a fifth grade teacher in the Washington County School District and has been a licensed educator for 24 years. She also works for SkyWest Airlines as a financial analyst, according to a disclosure statement filed with the State Elections Office.

The incumbent, Michelle Boulter, did not seek reelection.

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