Some say it was bound to happen: In a state known for strong religious beliefs, some voucher opponents have concluded that voucher supporters are backed by Satan.

Longtime political experts say it's no surprise that name-calling has entered into such a hot political battle.

The reference to Satan came in an e-mailed message sent by a former state PTA board member and legislative vice president Ronda Rose and forwarded to a number of PTA members last week. Rose sent the message after she learned of an e-mail debate between an attorney for Utahns for Public Schools and a Utah resident who disputed the PTA's right to work on a political issue.

"We are nonpartisan, not nonpolitical," Rose wrote. "We absolutely have the right and the responsibility to speak out on issues which affect children. Keep in mind that by their fruits, they shall be known, and the more I learn about these 'parents for choice,' the more I know they are from Satan. Lies and intimidation will not win as long as we stay strong."

Leah Barker, spokeswoman for the pro-voucher group Parents for Choice in Education, said she was "shocked" by the e-mail reference to Satan.

"There are certainly really good, dedicated supporters of Referendum 1 who care deeply about our kids and what's best for them who might be offended to be associated with Satan," she said.

Rose could not be reached for comment Monday.

Carmen Snow, immediate past president of the Utah PTA and a leader in Utahns for Public Schools, said Rose is not on the state executive PTA board and was not speaking on behalf of the PTA.

Richard Richards, former Republican National Committee chairman under President Ronald Reagan and three-time state chairman for the Utah Republican Party, said the voucher issue has yielded a more intense campaign than most and is negative on both sides.

Opponents say that vouchers are a risk and dangerous, while supporters highlight liberal politicians and groups who oppose vouchers, including Ted Kennedy, the National Education Association and moveon.org. The voucher supporters hope the associations will deter Utah's more conservative electorate from opposing vouchers, Richards said.

"If you can make the electorate hate or fear the other side, you are going to win — and that's the voucher campaign," Richards said. "It's the campaign of hate and fear on both sides, and that's too bad."


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com