BOISE - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vowed Wednesday to personally campaign against voter referendums to overturn this year’s school reform legislation, even as the tally of Idahoans signing petitions to place the measures on the ballot hit the 65,000 mark — nearly 20,000 more than the number required.
“That’s the people’s right — that’s what being part of a republic is all about,” Otter said. “We’re going to do our level best to make sure that the correct information gets out.”
He said, “We’ve got 18 months to make our case. We’re going to ask those that helped us get that legislation passed, including the legislators that supported us and the organizations that supported us, to help us with that.”
The governor added, “I fully intend to be as involved as I possibly can be.”
Three controversial school reform bills passed this year, pushed by Otter and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, to remove most collective bargaining rights from teachers, impose a merit-pay bonus system, and shift funds from teacher salaries to technology boosts and online learning.
Otter and Luna maintain the plan, dubbed “Students Come First,” will bring needed reforms to Idaho’s education system at a time when funding has been cut. “I think it’s important that after 40 years of the same system, we really do need the reform,” Otter said.
Opponents needed 47,432 verified signatures to force a vote of the people on each bill; with all three well above that mark, it’s virtually assured that all three will be on the November 2012 ballot.
“I hope they fail,” Otter said.
Mike Lanza, a Boise parent and chairman of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, said, “The governor has made it clear from the start that he’s a supporter of Superintendent Luna’s plan. He did not seem to be very concerned at all about the enormous public outcry against the plan when it was in the Legislature, so we believe that the governor is simply out of touch with public opinion on this one.”
It won’t be official until next week, when the supporters present the verified petitions to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office on Monday, which is the deadline.
But with the state’s new voter registration database, the Secretary of State’s office is able to track how many signatures have been verified by Idaho’s county clerks, and as of 1 p.m. Wednesday, those numbers were 65,088 for SB 1108, the teacher contracts bill; 65,252 for SB 1110, the merit pay bill; and 63,744 for SB 1184, the technology bill.
“It’s unofficial,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. But, he said, “these will be Proposition 1, 2 and 3” on the November 2012 ballot.
Lanza said the parent group is continuing to gather signatures because “we know that many Idahoans still want to sign the three petitions.” He said, “The numbers keep piling up.”
Idaho’s had numerous initiatives make the ballot before, but only four referendums. “We certainly have never had three on one day,” Ysursa said. “That’s what’s obviously kind of unique about this.”
Ysursa said opponents of the measures can challenge signatures in court, but all will have been verified already by county clerks. “These numbers are more than 10,000 over what was needed — it’s pretty solid that they’re going to be on.”