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Critic sees hand of union in upsets

In the race for the Clark County School Board, Edward Goldman and Ron Taylor, two candidates with advanced degrees and professional educational experience, lost to homemaker Deanna Wright and dental hygienist Chris Garvey.

The credit for the stunning upsets goes to the "iron triangle," the nexus of the teachers union, Clark County School District administrators and School Board members, said one district critic and observer.

"We’ve got a pattern in government. It’s run by insiders who work for insiders," said Steven Miller, the vice president of research for the Nevada Research Policy Institute, a conservative advocacy group.

Miller said the entrenched interests block any meaningful reform. "The public is essentially locked out, and the whole purpose of education is subverted," he said.

Miller said the Clark County Education Association, which represents district teachers, naturally chose the candidates who will advance their pet causes.

Terri Janison, Wright, Linda Young and Garvey, the four School Board candidates who won Tuesday, were all endorsed by the union, which collectively donated $29,000 to their campaigns.

Association President Ruben Murillo responded to accusations of undue influence with an "oh, please."

"I’m glad that people think we have that much control over the School Board," he said Wednesday.

Murillo said people who think the union can sway elections are usually at the "losing end" of a campaign.

All current and newly elected School Board members have been endorsed at some point by the teachers union, but no guarantee exists that the School Board members will follow the union’s lead, Murillo said.

"Once they’re elected, it’s another thing to work with them," Murillo said.

He added that union members’ dues are not used on political campaigns. Their contributions come from a separate fundraising arm.

Election Day was a development day for teachers at the request of Clark County elections chief Larry Lomax, who said he made the suggestion in consultation with the district’s school police to minimize security concerns. Schools often are used as polling places.

On Tuesday, Murillo said, the union did not do any "mass organizing" on behalf of the candidates. Students were off, but teachers still had to report for a regular workday.

One losing School Board candidate agreed with Murillo and said the union does not have that much influence.

Edward Goldman is an associate superintendent for the district who has a doctorate in education leadership, two master’s degrees and two bachelor’s degrees. He lost by 10 percentage points, about 10,000 votes, to Deanna Wright, a stay-at-home mom who is short of earning a two-year-degree and showed grammatical confusion on her campaign Web site by mixing up "there" with "their" and "roll" with "role."

Goldman blamed his defeat on uninformed voters. "The vast majority of people have no idea about the School Board," he said.

Goldman said that although School Board members run as nonpartisan candidates, he lost to the same political tsunami that swept Democratic female candidates such state Senator-elect Shirley Breeden and U.S. Representative-elect Dina Titus into office. They defeated their male opponents, incumbent state Sen. Joe Heck, R-Henderson, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev.

Goldman, who lives in southeastern Clark County, thinks that voters assumed the female candidates on the area’s ballot were all Democrats.

Wright said that she earned her victory in District A through hard work and that the teachers union endorsement certainly helped. She said she would not be a "rubber stamp" for the teachers union and added that she was "befuddled" that critics would accuse the education association and district administrators of colluding.

"They should be collaborating," Wright said. "They shouldn’t be pitted against each other."

She said the implication that teachers were a greedy special interest group was laughable. "They’re obviously not in it to be millionaires," Wright said.

Ron Taylor, a district middle school teacher, lost by less than 1 percentage point, 856 votes, to Garvey in District B.

Taylor said he was not going to ask for a recount because he did not want to serve with the current board and the newly-elected members, individuals he views as subservient to district administrators and union chiefs.

"I don’t know the words to ‘Kumbaya,’" Taylor said. "I’m so disillusioned with the public. They say they want change and then vote for PTA moms."

Taylor raised $2,980 in donations and spent $4,537 on his race, and Garvey raised $57,977 and spent $43,940.

Because of the money difference, Taylor thinks that Garvey had more special interests behind her than just the teachers union. He mocked the idea that the contributors gave donations based on her worthiness as a candidate. "I guess they really wanted a dental hygienist," he said.

Taylor, a Vietnam veteran, said he was offended by a Web site created by Gray & Associates, a consulting firm hired by Garvey’s campaign, which he felt impugned his military service. The Web site, Therealrontaylor.com, is no longer accessible.

Garvey said she comes from a military family and did not think the Web site detracted from Taylor’s service. "I wouldn’t take that away from him," Garvey said.

She said she was not beholden to the teachers union. She said she tells groups that she will listen: "I keep an open mind and open door."

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.

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