Feb 9, 2024 - News

Few paths to oust Utah official who questioned teen athlete's gender

Illustration of a burning chalkboard.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

State school board member Natalie Cline faced increasing calls to resign Thursday — and if she doesn't, there's not much her detractors can do except wait for the next election.

The big picture: Cline came under fire this week after she posted photos of a high school athlete, questioning her gender and prompting threats against the girl.

The latest: The girl's parents, LGBTQ+ advocates and some lawmakers have called on Cline to resign from the Utah State Board of Education.

  • Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson issued a joint rebuke late Wednesday, urging the Utah State Board of Education to "hold her accountable."
  • Cline did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Yes, but: The board has no authority to remove a member.

  • That would require impeachment by the Legislature, the board has said.
  • Absent that, Cline would have to resign or lose her re-election bid this year.

Reality check: Utah Senate President Stuart Adams (R-Layton) would not commit to impeachment proceedings during a media Q&A Thursday — nor did he call for her resignation.

  • "That's up to her," he said before changing the subject to argue the incident demonstrates a need for restrictions over social media access — a longtime platform of Utah Republicans.
  • In a prepared statement Thursday afternoon, Utah House Republicans said they were "considering all available options within our constitutional authority moving forward."

By the numbers: Cline, who represents southwest Salt Lake County and a sliver of Utah County, was elected in 2020 by a 38-point margin against an unaffiliated candidate.

The intrigue: In the heavily Republican district, the focus is now on the primary, where Cline will face Amanda Bollinger, an administrator with the Jordan School District.

  • Henderson on Wednesday revealed on X that she had contributed to Bollinger's campaign. Cox also shared a post encouraging donations to Bollinger.

Of note: USBE bylaws require members to "respect the privacy of students, … including refraining from direct and indirect identification of such, in a negative light in any public setting, venue, or platform where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Zoom in: The bylaws allow the chair, James Moss (R-Midway), to limit members' roles on the board due to misconduct.

  • Cline could be banned from advisory committee meetings, removed from committee assignments or barred from adding items to meeting agendas.
  • A final provision allows the board to "take other appropriate action."

Flashback: The board did not restrict Cline's participation when it reprimanded her in 2021 after determining she "incited hate speech" on social media.

  • Cline had posted a photo of a pride flag at a church facility adjacent to Layton High School. A former North Ogden City Council candidate shared a screengrab, telling his followers: "Time to get our muskets."
  • The board did begin to require members to post disclaimers on posts from their personal social media accounts, clarifying that their views did not represent USBE. But they voted to lift that requirement in August.
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