Gov. Otter should share polling data

My hat is off to Gov. Butch Otter for establishing a task force last fall, after the defeat of Props 1, 2 & 3, to spearhead substantive recommendations for improving public education in Idaho.  This working group has met several times already and will hold public meetings in April to discuss education reform issues statewide, finalizing recommendations before the 2014 legislative session.

For his efforts, the governor deserves a pat on the back and a thank you.  This working group is doing now what Mr. Luna, the governor, and legislative leaders should have done three years ago — a year before they steamrolled their sweeping reform package through the Legislature, without stakeholders, and against a vast public outcry.

Gov. Otter’s education committee is the type of group that makes democracy shine (despite it being a bit stacked with “his people”) and is the type of democracy in action that the state of Idaho needs and deserves.  True stakeholders engaged in civil discourse, involving the public, carefully researching the issues, and working prudently and deliberately to ascertain best practices for improving schools in the state of Idaho, is important work.

However, Gov. Otter receives a goose egg in the area of transparency, as it relates to an exit poll he mentioned back in December regarding the 2012 referendum election results.

On December 5, 2012, Gov. Otter spoke at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference.  He reported at that time that he had seen an exit survey funded by Education Voters of Idaho (EVI), run by John Foster, a former Dem-turned-GOP insider.  Gov. Otter said, according to the reporting of The Statesman’s Dan Popkey, “We got back some very good numbers that I think we can rely on,” and, “There were parts and pieces of every one of those [laws] that folks did want.”

Unfortunately, the good citizens of Idaho have not seen what Gov. Otter and other legislative leaders have seen, so are unable to judge for themselves the validity of this alleged data, data that is apparently being used to document public opinion and guide public policy — like the slew of education bills mirroring many parts of Proposition 1 currently circulating through the Capitol.

Mr. Foster has not responded to my emails, nor has he publicly released their alleged data.  I have personally heard a Canyon County legislator back in January also publicly cite Gov. Otter and the EVI poll.  EVI is the same group that funneled undisclosed donors last fall to the Yes for Idaho Education campaign, saying the money came from concerned Idaho parents.  After a court order, it was revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars actually came from big out-of-state donors like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who donated $200,000, requested by Lori Otter.

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So, back in February, Common Sense Democracy did an FOIA request with Gov. Otter seeking documentation of this alleged poll.  The response from the governor’s office:  “After reviewing your request and conducting due diligence, the Office of the Governor does not have any public records responsive to your request.”

In truth, Gov. Otter made a claim at the Associated Taxpayers conference that he, nor his staff, can substantiate in any way, shape or form.  As a teacher, I help my students write effectively.  I teach them when drafting an essay, for example, that they need to guide their essay with a series of claims, evidence, and warrants.  Unfortunately, Gov. Otter could take a lesson from Idaho kids.

I would hate for the Idaho legislature to be misled by invalid or flawed polling data and to think they have justification for again steamrolling voters.