Local political parties sum up school election

Democrats, Republicans differ on views of campaign

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Douglas County Democrats stand by their decision to stay out of the school board campaign, despite heavy involvement from the Douglas County Republicans and growing statewide Republican influences in small-scale elections.

But that doesn’t mean local Democrats don’t have an opinion on the campaign or its results.

“Outside interests such as the Koch brothers and their allies, who want to privatize our schools, poured over a million dollars into the recent school board race and were barely able to convince just over half the voters to vote for their candidates,” Douglas County Democrats chairman Mike Jones wrote in a press release. “With half the community and most of the parents in the county opposed to privatizing schools, the school board does not have a mandate to continue with their radical agenda.

“These parents were involved in the recent election with a passion that will not be abated until the school board represents all children. Douglas County Democrats stand with these parents.”

Douglas County Republicans chairman Craig Steiner disagreed with Jones, citing the repeated victory of Republican-endorsed, reform-minded candidates during the 2009, 2011 and 2013 school board elections.

“I think we do have a mandate — a growing mandate because it’s being repeated election after election,” he said.

Steiner also pointed out that outside money supported the four challenger candidates through a campaign committee called the Committee for Better Schools Now, largely funded by money from the local and national teachers’ unions. The committee paid for advertising and campaign materials.

The local Republican Party endorsed and actively supported the candidates who ultimately won the election. Several right-leaning groups also jumped in on the effort, paying for television commercials and campaign materials.

One of them, Americans for Prosperity, was founded with support from billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch — known for their support of right-wing causes and advocacy groups. Steiner said the local Republican Party played no part in AFP’s “It’s Working” ad campaign.

“I feel very good about the way the Republican Party conducted themselves (in the election),” he said. “Just the fact that our organization’s name has the name of a political party, there’s no reason we can’t be involved. We’re just another community organization; it just happens to be called the Republican Party.”

Colorado state statutes prohibit a school board candidate from running “as a candidate of any political party,” and the elections are designed to be nonpartisan. But Republicans increasingly are becoming involved in school board and other local-level elections, and say it’s part of a national movement to secure seats at all levels of government.

Local Democrats don’t have the same strategy.

“I think we took the right path because it’s nonpartisan,” Jones said. “I think we got 50 percent of the Democrats out to vote in an off-year election. It’s a fact that there are two-and-a-half times as many registered Republicans as Democrats (in Douglas County). Yet they only won by 4 percent. I’d say that’s says pretty much the community really does not support the current board.”

Jones said local Democrats haven’t talked about whether they’ll stay the course in future local elections and remain uninvolved.

Local Republicans will continue their level of involvement.

“I don’t see any reason to change,” Steiner said. “We’re having success and I think we’re seeing good results.”