Political expert discusses Lockhart’s superintendent ambitions

Posted at 10:11 PM, Aug 22, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-23 00:11:03-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- House Speaker Becky Lockhart has her sights set on a new job, and it's not Governor.

The politician wants to be the state's next Superintendent of Public Instruction, but is she qualified for the position?

Speaker Lockhart has served in the legislature for 16 years. Education may have been the focus of some of her policies as a politician, but her background is in nursing.

"She was positioning herself to run for Governor," said Tim Chambless, a Professor at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

He said Lockhart is taking a backseat for now mostly because of her approval rating, or lack thereof.

"For the last seven months, since the beginning of the state legislature--a time in which she described Governor Herbert an inaction figure and received considerable criticism for that, she has dropped in private polling," Chambless said. "Meanwhile, Governor Herbert is somewhere along 70 percent approval."

Lockhart is now vying for the top spot in education as the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In a statements she says in part, "As I reach the end of my legislative service, I have spent many hours pondering the possibilities and opportunities for me to continue to serve Utah and her residents. I trust that my application along with all the others submitted will be considered on its unique merits and evaluated with the goal of moving forward in a new and positive way."

If chosen for the job, the Republican would replace Dr. Martell Menlove. Since 1869, there have been 29 Superintendents. Is the state's first female Speaker of the House qualified? Lockhart championed an initiative to get laptops or tablets for every student, but it quickly fizzled when lawmakers discovered it would cost the state up to $300 million. Teachers wanted the money to go toward smaller class sizes.

"This is important because over 60 percent of Utah's budget, 13.3 billion dollars, goes to public school education... we would probably want the best person, the most qualified person in that position," Chambless said. "Becky Lockhart has a degree in nursing and background as a nurse, and had previously sat on a hospital board, but does not have a masters degree, does not have a Ph.D., does not have extensive background in public education."

Chambless said most the State's Superintendents have Ph.D.s in education but that doesn't mean Lockhart isn't qualified. This also doesn't mean a run for Governor is out of the question in 2016.

In the meantime, Governor Gary Herbert's Office said they remain neutral on the subject.