CU GOP Prez Debate Limited Seating Liability Grows

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

As the Boulder Daily Camera’s Sarah Kuta reports, Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder has joined the growing dogpile of complaints over the highly limited seating available to University of Colorado students at next month’s on-campus Republican presidential debate:

Congressman Jared Polis on Monday called the limited number of seats available at the Republican presidential debate being held at the University of Colorado next month “insulting” and urged debate organizers to make more room for CU students…

The debate venue, the Coors Event Center, can hold more than 10,000 people. Last week, a university spokesman said the limited seating is due to the setup of the stage, lighting and camera equipment.

In his letter to CU, CNBC, and GOP officials, Rep. Polis makes clear that he finds that excuse as laughable as we did:

This isn’t about politics – whether you’re right, left, or center, if you’re a member of the University community you should have every opportunity to meaningfully participate in one of the biggest political debates of the past four years. That’s why I’m urging you to work closely with the RNC and CNBC to allocate drastically more tickets for the University community. I know this is something the University is capable of, as demonstrated in 2012 when your campus hosted a campaign rally for President Obama that was attended by more than 13,000 students and community members.

I’m no expert, but I’ve never seen video cameras so big that it requires taking up thousands of seats in an arena to get good shots from multiple angles. [Pols emphasis]

7NEWS ran a story (video after the jump) about CU students organizing to demand more seating be opened up in the mostly-empty Coors Events Center–this coming after the CU student government passed a resolution last Thursday calling for a “drastic” increase in tickets made available to CU students:

A group of students have formed an online social media campaign called ‘Student Voices Count,’ with the intention of pushing for more student representation.

“This event was initially announced as a really good opportunity for students to be involved in something huge and as it turns out, we’re not,” said Julian Taranow, who is part of the movement.

Students tell 7NEWS they are puzzled why the Republican Party would hold a debate on a college campus and then not connect with the students.

As we fully expected and predicted weeks ago, this situation is rapidly deteriorating for both CU and the Republican Party. Where hosting a GOP presidential debate in the liberal stronghold of Boulder, Colorado might have seemed in a brainstorming meeting to be a stroke of genius, today it increasingly looks like a fool’s errand. Lurking just beneath the excuses is an obvious fact that no one can deny: the current slate of Republican presidential candidates are highly unlikely to resonate with the average CU student. The problem isn’t with the students, either, though your state of denial view about that may vary on partisan lines.

The problem is with the candidates. The problem is Jeb! Bush telling voters that black people vote to get “free stuff.” The problem is Ben Carson saying a Muslim can’t be President. The problem is Carly Fiorina making crazy stories up about harvesting live fetal brains. The problem is…well, more or less everything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth.

Attempting to benefit from CU’s reputation as a leading center of scholarship while simultaneously preventing GOP presidential candidates from getting close enough to the CU student body to offend them may never have been a workable proposition. We have to attribute some of that hubris to longtime GOP kingpin and CU President Bruce Benson personally, given Benson’s near-obsession with fostering a “politically inclusive” climate at CU. It’s not much of a stretch from Benson’s eager foisting of a “visiting conservative scholar” on the university, which if you didn’t hear ended rather badly, to imagining that this clown car of GOP presidential candidates could come to CU and not face major embarrassment. Especially when you have to essentially hide them from the student body.

At this point, the damage from the story of excluding CU students from this debate is at real risk of overshadowing the debate itself. If this continues, by the day of the debate we expect a very large and news-cycle captivating protest outside the Coors Events Center. If we were in a decision-making position at the Republican National Committee, we would honestly consider throwing open the doors and filling this arena with every student who wants to be there. If there is any chance of a reasonable Republican presidential candidate emerging from this pack, there’s an argument that a crowd of non-GOP party faithful is better equipped to recognize and respond to that than a hand-picked conservative audience.

Unless, of course, nobody wants that. In which case maybe this is a train wreck that can’t be stopped.


Jeffco School Board Majority Shuts Minority Out

UPDATE: A fresh report from the Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland has us wondering if major recall opponent group Americans For Prosperity is preparing for a loss in the Jefferson County school board recall elections?

Regardless of the outcome of the recall…

The politicians, school board candidates and conservative education reformers at an Americans for Prosperity Foundation education-reform strategy session Sunday repeated this mantra.

Two conservative Jefferson County Board of Education members whose jobs are on the line in the November recall, board Chair Ken Witt and Vice-Chair Julie Williams, heard this short-term-grim/long-term-hopeful message repeated again and again…

“We’ll be here on November 4 (the day after the election), regardless of what happens in the elections,” [Recall opponent Sheila] Atwell told the audience, which included Williams and Witt. “That’s what parents need to understand – this is a year-round effort. We always have to be vigilant.” [Pols emphasis]

Great long-term bravado, but for the three board members up for recall right now, maybe not the best message.

Or maybe it’s the only realistic message.


Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

As reported by Support Jeffco Kids, relations between the conservative Jefferson County school board majority–presently facing a recall election–and the outgoing minority members have broken down to a degree that appears to be affecting the body’s basic responsibilities. Here’s outgoing minority member Jill Fellman describing the latest incident of red-on-blue bad faith:

There is an Agenda Setting Meeting with the Superintendent and his Cabinet a week or so before every board meeting. The purposes of these meetings are to determine how much time agenda items might take and to give appropriate direction to Cabinet members to ensure agenda items meet the needs of the Board.

According to practice, Mr. Newkirk and I alternate going to these meetings. Today was my day to attend the meeting – so, I drove to the Ed. Ctr. Mr. Witt arrived at the meeting with Mr. Newkirk and informed me (in the presence of several staff members) (1) I was not needed and (2) Mr. Newkirk would be attending the Agenda Setting Meetings until the election.

I’m a big girl, and I can deal with the lack of respect that I see every day from this Board majority. At the same time, our District deserves elected officials who treat each other and the public with respect, even when they disagree on policy…

Outgoing Jeffco school board member Jill Fellman.

Outgoing Jeffco school board member Jill Fellman.

Obviously, there’s tension on the Jeffco school board today as a recall election targeting the conservative majority rapidly approaches. But that’s hardly an excuse for those majority members to exclude the minority from an official meeting setting the agenda for school board meetings. The high drama that has regularly erupted at Jeffco board meetings in recent months seems most unlikely to abate if the minority is shut out of the planning for those meetings. In fact, that seems like a sure way to further aggrieve the standing-room-only crowds who turn out month after month.

Staring down the barrel of a recall, it should be obvious that you shouldn’t make things worse for yourself with avoidable bad press. There’s nothing we can think of to be gained by shutting Fellman out of these meetings that isn’t outweighed by the negative impression this action gives the voters about to decide your fate. This is the kind of nasty anecdote field campaigns depend on to win undecided votes.

So yes, it’s a big mistake, committed out of what appears to be pure spite.

CU Student Government Revolts Over GOP Debate Access

CU-Boulder's Coors Events Center.

CU-Boulder’s Coors Events Center.

As the Boulder Daily Camera’s Sarah Kuta reports:

University of Colorado students are frustrated that they won’t be able to attend the Republican presidential debate being held on their campus and are banding together this week to demand that more tickets be made available.

Late Thursday night, the CU Student Government passed a special resolution chiding the university, the Republican National Committee and CNBC, the cable news channel that’s broadcasting the debate, for making just 50 tickets available to the university community.

The Oct. 28 debate is being held at the Coors Events Center, which can seat more than 10,000 people. But the audience will be capped at roughly 1,000, with a small fraction of those seats going to university students, faculty and administrators…

The CU Student Government resolution calls for a “drastic” increase in the number of tickets available to students and the community and states that if the Republican National Committee and CNBC refuse to do so, the university should no longer be involved with the event. [Pols emphasis]

We’ve been watching the controversy over the highly limited seating available for the October 28th Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus build over the last few weeks like a ticking…on second thought, let’s go ahead and avoid that analogy. But as soon as it was announced that only a small fraction of the available seats at CU-Boulder’s Coors Events Center would be filled at all, and that of those few seats only a token number would go to CU students, we predicted that decision would result in much more controversy than it was worth to the GOP’s image.

That is, unless having an open and accessible debate full of CU students really would be a disaster for the GOP’s slate of presidential candidates. That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the foremost reason this budding controversy is so bad for Republicans is that everybody knows why they’re not letting CU students attend in any significant numbers.

“We have requested more, but we anticipate that few, if any, will be forthcoming,” wrote CU-Boulder spokesman Ryan Huff in an email. “We understand that this is primarily a television event and CNBC has limited the audience of the 11,000-seat Coors Events Center to about one-tenth of capacity due to the set-up of the stage, lighting, camera equipment, etc.”

He said the university will soon be releasing information about a student watch party on campus.

Sean Spicer, chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee, reiterated on Friday that the debate is a televised event not meant for a live audience… [Pols emphasis]

Obviously, if the event is “not meant for a live audience,” why hold it in a stadium? Why have 1,000 mostly hand-picked people there at all? This excuse just plain doesn’t make sense, and the idea that the stage and broadcast equipment for the debate is going to fill up 10,000 seats in the Coors Events Center is silly on its face.

The Donald and Jeb!

The Donald and Jeb!

The real problem, as we all know, is that putting the current slate of Republican presidential candidates in front of anything other than a hand-picked audience of Republican Party loyalists risks demonstrating how out of touch many of them are–simply by hearing the audience’s reactions. As we’ve said, we don’t accept the argument that students would be inappropriately rowdy. This is about fully appropriate gasps and boos that would come in response to any number of recent on-record statements by Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb! Bush, and the rest of the crew.

The need to preserve a veneer of respectability for a group of presidential aspirants more of less devoted to embarrassing themselves, their party, and the entire nation in the eyes of the world–and folks, that is really what’s going on here, no hyperbole–is putting the University of Colorado in an ugly exclusionary position with their own students. The best choice would probably have been for CU President and GOP kingpin Bruce Benson to have passed altogether on bringing these clowns to the “People’s Republic of Boulder” under terms dictated by the Republican National Committee. Somebody in a strategy meeting had the super-crafty idea of holding a GOP debate in Boulder, and didn’t think through all the things that would mean.

But it’s too late now. The train wreck is underway.

Ken Witt Presents: How to Make the Case for Your Own Recall

Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt

Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt

Temperatures have been rising on the Jefferson County School Board ever since three right-wing members were elected to take over the Board majority in November 2013. As Colorado Pols readers are no doubt aware, these three Board members — Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — are now facing a November recall election for a variety of reasons that we won’t rehash here (check Jeffco Pols for a more in-depth background into the Jeffco School Board controversies).

If you aren’t familiar with the controversies and issues that led to the November recall election, there was a moment at Thursday evening’s Jeffco School Board Meeting that perfectly encapsulates why the entire Jefferson County community has been in an uproar over the actions of Witt, Newkirk, and Williams. You can see the video yourself below, which better conveys the emotion of the exchange as Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper is nearly driven to tears out of frustration and anger in response to an incredibly disrespectful display from Board President Ken Witt.

“I am fed up with the way we are running this Board.”

— Jeffco School Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper

The back-and-forth discussion in question followed the introduction of a resolution proposing changes to the District Accountability Committee (DAC) Both Dahlkemper and Board Member Jill Fellman voiced their concern that Witt was forcing a vote on an item that the Board had not yet discussed, which is explicitly against the Board’s own policies. The resolution in question was sent around to Board members on Thursday afternoon — mere hours before the meeting was called to order — so Dahlkemper and Fellman asked Witt to schedule the vote for the following week so that the item could be discussed first.

“I don’t know how we can have a conversation and vote on something I saw for the first time 4 hours ago,” said Fellman. “I’m not willing to do that.”

Jeffco School Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper

Jeffco School Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper

Dahlkemper also noted that a discussion was pertinent because a volunteer committee of parents, teachers, and administrators had been working for months on changes to the DAC. Here’s what happened next:

LESLEY DAHLKEMPER: “At the very least, give us the time to read this, digest it, contrast it with what we have also been given by a committee that has spent more than three months analyzing state law and having conversations about this, to determine whether this is a good resolution moving forward. All I’m asking is that we follow board policy, we ask questions about this if we have any tonight, and then we put it on the agenda for the next Board Meeting to approve it. That’s all. That’s all I’m asking.”

KEN WITT: [Sarcastically] Ms. Dahlkemper, this has been read to you twice, but we can continue to go over it until you feel like you understand all of the terms. [Pols emphasis]

LD: Mr. Witt, don’t you dare speak down to me or disrespect me.

KW: I’m not…

LD: Yes, you have. And I’m sorry you don’t understand the difference between those two things…because I am done with it. [VOICE CRACKS] I can’t believe this…because I do not want to do this. But I will tell you – the mistake that you are making right now is that we have a policy on the table about how we govern. You are throwing governance right out the window because you have some agenda that you feel so critical that we have to vote on tonight…that even a simple request that is to say, “Look, our policy says we review it, and then we vote on it.” And don’t you dare insinuate that I don’t understand this policy. And stop talking down to people on this board, and also people who come forward. Enough. [Pols emphasis]

Policy disagreements are to be expected in any group of elected officials, but it’s inexcusable for Witt to a) Ignore Board policy at his own whim, and b) Display such blatant disrespect to a fellow board member. Witt’s behavior isn’t the primary reason why he, Newkirk, and Williams are facing a recall — but it’s near the top of the list.


Check out the video after the jump…



My son deserves a school without hate

A banner hangs in the entrance to Pomona High School, where my son is a freshman this year: “A school without hate.” It’s a basic value he and his friends believe in.

In Jefferson County, those values are under attack. Click here now to find out how you can be part of the solution.

Right now, my neighbors in Jefferson County and I are working on recalling members of the Jefferson County school board who don’t believe in schools without hate. Each year, Jefferson County schools participate in a “Day of Silence” protest against bullying on campus. In response, board member Julie Williams posted a link to a protest against the Day of Silence, which referred to this important anti-bullying awareness event as “perverse indoctrination.”

That’s not who I want in charge of my son’s high school education.

It’s time for a school board in Jefferson County that truly cares about every student. Over the next few weeks the campaign to inform voters about the upcoming recall election is kicking into high gear. And we need your help to ensure success.

Click here to visit Jeffco United’s website and volunteer to help the recall campaign. The campaign needs volunteers for a variety of important jobs, from knocking on doors to answering phones. And of course, please donate whatever you can today.

The eyes of the nation are on Jefferson County today, but for me, it’s personal. This recall is about my son’s education, and over 85,000 kids who attend Jeffco public schools with him. This is about my son’s good teachers in Jeffco who are being driven out by a board that doesn’t value their work. And it’s about making sure that far-right political ideology doesn’t dictate what’s taught in our classrooms.

Thanks for standing up when it matters most. Right now.

GOP To CU Student Body: Be Seen But Not Heard

yourmoneyyurvoteAs the Boulder Daily Camera’s Alex Burness reported this weekend, requests to allow more University of Colorado students to attend next month’s Republican presidential debate at the Coors Events Center have fallen on deaf ears:

The Oct. 28 event in Boulder, titled “Your Money, Your Vote” and televised by CNBC, will be held in the 11,000-seat Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado campus, but the audience will be capped at about 1,000, and nearly all those chairs are already spoken for.

“One of the things people need to keep in mind,” Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s chief spokesman, said Friday, “is that this is a television production more than anything else. It’s a major, major event, but it’s mostly focused on being seen by the tens of millions of people who are watching.”

…Though CU is hosting the event, the school will only squeak in a few dozen of its own.



Liberal group ProgressNow Colorado, who led calls last month for more debate tickets to go to CU students, is predictably unhappy:

“It’s outrageous that the Republican Party has chosen to shut University of Colorado students out of the October presidential debate on their own campus,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. “The Republican Party is partnering with the University of Colorado to host this debate, co-opting the good name of Colorado’s flagship university to provide a forum for Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and the rest of the GOP’s out-of-touch presidential candidates. Now we know that the GOP is afraid to let anyone but a hand-picked audience see them.”

“What is the Republican National Committee so afraid of that they have to lock the CU student body out of this debate?” asked Runyon-Harms. “A hand-picked audience clapping politely at the Coors Events Center while Donald Trump insults women and Ben Carson insults Muslims would be an insult to the intelligence of every University of Colorado student. The millions of viewers watching this debate deserve to see and hear how real people respond to these presidential candidates. Anything less is worthless political theater, and a misuse of the University of Colorado’s reputation for open and accessible dialogue on the issues.”

There are two ways to look at this situation. On the one hand, as the RNC claims, the debate is arguably about the televised audience, not the crowd in attendance. And the Daily Camera reports that the last two GOP presidential debates only utilized a small fraction of the available capacity of the venue they were held in. You might even go a step beyond a logistical benefit of the doubt, and say defensibly that the RNC has the “right” to invite anyone they want to “their” debate.

But is it good politics to only give out tickets to a tenth of a venue’s capacity, when thousands of CU students would gladly fill those empty seats? That’s where this gets a lot trickier for the RNC, especially with liberals making an issue of those empty seats. We don’t buy the argument that college students would necessarily be disruptive of the debate, though their reactions even within a permitted range of applause and other vocalizations might indeed be something Republicans would want to avoid. Either way, we don’t believe a full Coors Events Center would create any technical problems for the televised broadcast.

Once you get past those objections, there’s really not much left except things the RNC doesn’t want to discuss. Like why those students would be repelled by things the candidates might say.

“There’s no fee paid to reserve the venues, but the publicity value is going to be quite substantial,” [CU spox Bronson Hilliard] said. “The PR value of having the campus continually referred to, the exterior shot that will start the debate, the sustained coverage inside the venue — if you were to pay for all of that in terms of advertising value, it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

And that’s where this becomes tricky for everybody, including the University of Colorado. On the one hand, the university freely claims a six-digit PR value for hosting this debate on the CU-Boulder campus. For Republicans, hosting a debate on this historically liberal college campus has a much higher value in terms of legitimizing their field of candidates.

Once voters realize that the picturesque CU-Boulder campus is being used strictly as a backdrop, and that the students and faculty who make the place what it is are being excluded from attending the debate when they could easily be accommodated, we’d say the “PR value” drops substantially for both CU and the GOP.

Jeffco School Board Member Apparently Thinks Baseless Whining Will Help Him

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

From the beginning of the uprising by Jeffco parents and students, conservative Jeffco school board members and their allies (like failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez) have said directly or implied that community members are pawns of teachers’ unions.

Even now, facing a recall election and massive criticism that again demonstrates the power of the grassroots movement opposing him, board member John Newkirk continues to whine about unions and outsiders–and their foul play–without coughing up evidence of such nefariousness.

On KNUS 710-AM Monday, Newkirk spewed out a list of grievances, vilifying unions and others, and, in the process, demeaning the community.

Take a look below. It’s hard to feel sorry for Newkirk when he says stuff like, “I’ve had numerous constituents call me up saying, you know, there’s folks in the schools that are really crossing the line, now.” Hmm.

He provides none of the specifics you’d hope to hear from a responsible person who makes such accusations. This leaves listeners, even ones who are sympathetic to Newkirk, with no choice to but to conclude that Newkirk is mean, desperate, or worse.

Here’s an exchange from KNUS Sept. 14:

HOST KRISTA KAFER: It’s been a difficult couple of years as a board member pushing for reform. Of course, they have a right to do the recall. That’s the law, and they’re doing it. Or trying it, I should say. But some of the things they’re doing to raise support for it, I have concerns, are not legal and certainly not ethical. What are you hearing?

NEWKIRK: Well, I think some of them have crossed the line. There are a lot of c4 groups, and I think by law, only 40% of c4 activity can be political. Which of course doesn’t have any place in our schools, and of course electioneering doesn’t – so I’ve had numerous constituents call me up saying, you know, there’s folks in the schools that are really crossing the line, now. You know, at back-to-school nights – they’ll have aggressive people there, some of them from out of the district, actually pursuing parents down the halls as they’re going to their conferences or back-to-school nights, pushing literature on them that they don’t want. I’ve also heard constituents complain that they’ve actually had people showing up at local high schools trying to register 16-or-17-year-olds to register to vote and even to the point where if they check that they’re conservative, then they’ll belittle them in certain ways. So, you know, that’s not part of our educational goals here, to embroil our children in partisan politics. I’ve also heard reports that teachers are wearing their pro-union signs—uh, t-shirts and buttons and even sticking signs up in their classrooms. So, no, that’s not appropriate.

Kafer didn’t ask what in the world Newkirk was talking about. Where’s the backup for these rumors and strange utterances, or fpr any specific info about these alleged activities. This leaves Newkirk sounding like a gossipy teenager with Kafer lapping it up.


Sign the petition: CU students deserve to be there

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

AP GOP 2016 CPAC A USA MDYou’ve probably heard by now that the whole gaggle of Republican candidates for President will debate at the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus in late October.

We’re asking debate organizers to promise that at least 50% of the tickets to the debate will be made available to CU students. Sign our petition now.

The Republican presidential debate at CU Boulder is a chance to hear first-hand the positions of over a dozen presidential candidates. It’s a great opportunity to be involved with our political process that CU students have come to expect from their world-class educational institution.

But it’s critical that students be given the chance to attend.

The Boulder Daily Camera reports that no decisions regarding the distribution of tickets have yet been made. The Coors Event Center on the CU Boulder campus seats over 11,000 people.

The Republican Party is partnering with the University of Colorado to host this debate, and enlisting the credibility of Colorado’s flagship educational institution to elevate the GOP and the participating candidates. That’s why it’s so important that the audience for the debate include students of the University of Colorado. Anything less would be a deception.

Sign our petition: tell organizers of the October presidential debate at CU to make at least 50% of the tickets available to CU students.

Thanks for your quick response to this important petition. Let’s make sure that CU’s reputation is protected by making this debate open and accessible to CU students. It’s only fair.

Local GOP Operative Steps Down From The Gifted Class

GOP operative Caleb Bonham, who is somewhat less creepy than this photo suggests.

GOP operative Caleb Bonham, who is somewhat less creepy than this photo suggests.

Folks in the business will recognize the name Caleb Bonham, a local conservative activist and graduate from Colorado State University, who made the jump from the bush leagues of our local Revealing Politics blog to the quasi-big time of the conservative online ranks with his work for the Campus Reform project of the D.C.-based “Leadership Institute.” Campus Reform has spent a great deal of time in recent years attempting to police college campuses for what they see as “liberal bias,” as well as raging against such terrible burdens placed on strapping young college men as the University of Minnesota’s new affirmative consent policy for sexual relations between students.

Because obviously, real men know when no means yes! We digress.

Today, Bonham announced his last day with the Campus Reform project, and the launch of his new Denver-based consultant business with fellow local Republican usual suspects Kyle Forti and Lee Hopper. Hopefully this isn’t a demotion, but you never know when folks decide to join the consultant class:

Friends, today is a big day for me. Today I get to close a wonderful chapter in my life as Editor-in-Chief of Campus Reform.

It was a fun and hectic ride. We accomplished so much. I am especially proud of the leaders we assisted along the way – over 60 correspondents nationwide – activated, trained, and empowered to bring change and better equip themselves to thrive in life…

Kyle and Lee Hopper have done amazing things in Colorado and together, the three of us, are excited to bring our creativity to a new venture servicing the corporate and political space.

As a startup local business, we’re happy to give DCO Consulting some free promotion. And we’ll say in all honesty that Bonham is a true asset to the conservative activist industrial complex. Just last weekend, he spoke on a panel at the Americans for Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit in Columbus, Ohio–and the subject was “How To Talk To Millennials.” As you can see from his photo of the audience,

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.18.21 PM

AFP really benefits from Bonham explaining “how to talk to millennials.”

Because apparently they don’t have any.

Welcome home, Mr. Bonham. You’re going to fit right in.

Jeffco Recall: No Challenge, Replacements Emerge, Battle Looms

Embattled Jeffco school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Embattled Jeffco school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Circling back with events in Jefferson County following the validation last week of more the double the number of signatures required to place a recall of the right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County school board on this November’s ballot–as the Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland reports, conservative board members are asking supporters not to challenge the petition results:

Should a challenge occur, because of timing, the recall would go into an expensive special election. The school district will have to bear the costs of the recall election, whether it takes place in conjunction with the November 3 general election or as a special election. The cost to the district would be about $10,000 if the recall election happens on November 3, according to Jeffco United for Action. If it goes to a special election, the costs skyrocket to about $500,000.

Newkirk told The Colorado Independent he does not plan to challenge the signatures or petitions, despite saying they are filled with “erroneous, misleading, and outright deceptive language.”

…Williams earned special ire from recall supporters for proposing a change to the district’s Advanced Placement history curriculum last year. Williams suggested the curriculum should promote citizenship, patriotism and the benefits of the free enterprise system and discourage civil disorder. The proposal led to student and teacher walkouts district-wide, and it was later watered down.

She told The Independent Friday she also does not plan to challenge the signatures or petitions. “My plan is to focus on what is most important, the students of Jeffco,” and to continue the good work of the board, she said via email.

Witt said he has asked his supporters to not challenge the petitions, and he doesn’t plan to, either.

We speculated last week that it might in fact be better for the board members being recalled to have the election go forward with the regular November ballot as opposed to a separate election. We say “might” because we’ve heard credible opinions on both sides of this question–but we assume that before Julie Williams, John Newkirk, and Ken Witt decided against challenging the signatures, their handlers closely studied the matter. The hard numbers for ballot returns in the two different scenarios are much more important strategically than the message value of pinning responsibility for the added expense of a separate recall election on whichever side forced one, so this was an important consideration.

With that said, it was always the objective for recall organizers to hold the vote on the same day as the regular November election, so they’re obviously fine with no challenges.

Jeffco school board candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron MItchell.

Jeffco school board candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron MItchell.

Meanwhile, a press release late last week announced the slate of candidates running to replace Witt, Newkirk, and Williams in the event of a successful recall:

Three candidates are announcing their intentions to run as successor candidates for the three Jeffco School Board members facing recall this fall. In District 1, Brad Rupert is running for the seat currently held by Julie Williams. In District 2, Susan Harmon is running for the seat currently held by John Newkirk. In District 5, Ron Mitchell is running for the seat currently held by Ken Witt.

Williams, Newkirk, and Witt – collectively referred to as “WNW” – were elected in November 2013, making up the majority of the five-member board. Their initial steps of hiring their own board lawyer, pushing out the nationally-recognized superintendent, and making decisions behind closed doors drew ire from community members. The board attracted international attention in the fall of 2014 when they proposed a new committee to review and censor AP US History curriculum. In early July, a recall effort was launched by three Jeffco parents. On Tuesday, the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder declared that a sufficient number of valid signatures had been submitted and that a recall would be taking place on a date to be set after the expiration of a protest period.

The three successor candidates – Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell – were recruited by a group of parent leaders seeking to build a non-partisan team with diverse backgrounds who would be committed to working together to repair the damage done by WNW. All three have or had kids in Jeffco Public Schools. It is likely that additional successor candidates will emerge from left and right, but these three are hoping to earn the support of Jeffco voters who are less interested in politics and more interested in having a board who will listen, work together, and stay focused on expanding educational opportunities for Jeffco kids.

These three candidates join Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell, running to replace the two progressive minority members of the school board who opted not to run again. The best case scenario for recall organizers is a clean sweep of the entire Jeffco school board, which would be a victory with profound implications for the larger debate over public education policy in America.

Jefferson County students went back to school last week, and parents are on campus for open house and other events where activists on both sides are hoping to attract support. Jeffco Schools public relations, which now is reportedly managed by highly paid GOP-leaning PR consultant group Novitas Communications, is using official district communications like the “Chalk Talk” newsletter to promote a positive message that not coincidentally makes the actions of the board majority look good.

Unfortunately, the latest “Chalk Talk” newsletter was so poorly written that teachers and parents have spent the last few days cracking jokes about it:


Bruce Ben$on’s GOP Debate Raises Interesting Questions

CU President Bruce Ben$on.

CU President Bruce Ben$on.

As the Boulder Daily Camera’s Sarah Kuta reports:

University of Colorado officials are working to finalize details ahead of the Republican presidential debate to be held on the Boulder campus in October…

Several campus officials, including members of the CU police force, traveled to Cleveland earlier this month to observe the logistics, security plans and media coordination efforts for the debates at the Quicken Loans Arena.

The decision to host a Republican presidential primary debate on the traditionally liberal University of Colorado Boulder campus might seem strange to outsiders, but that’s only because they don’t know CU’s arch-Republican President Bruce Benson. Benson, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and longtime top funder of GOP candidates and campaigns, helps a Boulder GOP presidential debate make sense.

Even so, this is still the Boulder you hippies know and love we’re talking about:

CU is also preparing for protesters, who may use the debate to hold demonstrations about marijuana, tuition costs and policing, [CU police chief Melissa] Zak said.

“We will have our intelligence arm trying to look for that,” she said.

We fully expect that the presence of the entire gaggle of Republican presidential candidates, or at least the ones who make CNBC’s cut, will bring out a colorful range of demonstrators on a variety of topics. That will make for great establishing shots outside the debate venue, which the networks ought to love.

But what about inside?

No ticketing information has been made available yet by the debate hosts…

The question of who gets to attend the CU presidential debate will have a significant impact on the tenor of the debate, and how it’s perceived by the public. There’s no word as of this writing what the breakdown of distribution of tickets to the debate will be, but insofar as CU’s brand is being enlisted to give this GOP debate credibility, we’d say the CU student body should comprise a significant percentage of the audience.

It’s true, this might also have the effect of demonstrating that the gap between at least some of these candidates and reality as CU students experience it is, well, quite large! How Donald Trump would fare under that lens is, we admit, potentially problematic–but it could give Republicans interested in appealing to socially well-adjusted young voters a chance to shine.

Honestly, that might be reason enough right there for “Ben$on” to let it happen. Or…not.

Either way, we’ll be very curious to see what happens here.

BREAKING: Jeffco Recall Petitions Validated

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

A press release moments ago from Jeffco United confirms that the Jefferson County Clerk has validated petition signatures to force a recall of the conservative majority on the Jefferson County school board. For each of the three board members targeted, more than double the number of signatures were not just collected, but validated–which indicates a very high validity rate, and a clean petition drive.

Today, the Jeffco Clerk issued a statement of valid signatures to Jeffco United for Action of double the required 15,000 signatures per board member.

Ken Witt 33,942 valid signatures
John Newkirk 34,188 valid signatures
Julie Williams 33,900 valid signatures

“In an unprecedented move, we as a community collected more than double the number of valid signatures needed to recall school board members Witt, Newkirk and Williams in just over two weeks. The message is clear, the people of Jefferson County want to hold this Board Majority accountable and demand a recall vote on November 3rd,” started Tina Gurdikian, mother of two Jeffco students and one of the parents who pulled the recall petitions.

“We have done our job, and now it’s time to let the people vote on November 3rd whether the School Board Majority deserves to be recalled,” stated Michael Blanton, a father of two Jeffco students and parent who pulled the recall petitions.

Next, begins a 15-calendar day protest period. Any registered voter in the school district can file a protest. Once the protest period has ended on September 2nd, the Clerk will set the date for the election which the parents hope will be November 3rd to coincide with the existing coordinated election.

“Now is the time for our opponents to step up and ask their supporters to not protest the overwhelming intent of the Jeffco petition signers. Should they choose to play games, opponents to the recall will cost the school district over half a million dollars, dollars that could otherwise be going to benefit our students,” concluded Wendy McCord a mother of three Jeffco students and the third parent who pulled the recall petitions.

It remains to be seen whether a protest will be filed, but the huge margin over the minimum number of signatures needed to proceed with the recall all but guarantees any such challenge would be unsuccessful. That means the realistic best-case scenario would be to delay the recall election past November 3rd, not to prevent it. It’s an open question whether holding a separate election would benefit board members trying to survive the recall, or make it easier for the recall to succeed–we’ve heard arguments on both sides of this question.

Either way, a protest would result in a large additional expense for the district if the election isn’t held on November 3rd, and at this point recall opponents would take the blame if that were to occur. Given all of these variables, and the overall inevitability of a recall due to organizers smashing their petition goals, it’s possible that conservative supporters of the board majority will opt against a challenge.

That would be the smart play, because with this enormously successful petition drive, the Jeffco community and stakeholders in Jeffco’s public schools have expressed their desire clearly. 

They want a recall. And they’re going to get one.

GOP Media Flacks Way Over Budget At Jeffco Schools

Novitas' Michelle Balch Lyng (left), with former Jeffco comms director Lisa Pinto.

Novitas’ Michelle Balch Lyng (left), with former Jeffco comms director Lisa Pinto.

The Citizens For Responsible Education blog follows up on the contract between the conservative Jefferson County school board majority and Novitas Communications, a Republican-aligned public relations outfit headed by Michelle Balch Lyng, former vice-chair of the Denver Republican Party–a contract that appears to have run significantly over budget in its original five months:

An investigation into Jeffco schools PR expenses has revealed new information about the services and charges of Novitas Communications. The district signed a contract with Novitas back in February. The contract stated that services that weren’t to exceed $50,000 over a term of just under five months (02/9/15-6/30/15). This cap was apparently ignored. The district paid Novitas $67,082 over the course of the five-month contract and was 34% over budget…

The records also indicate that Novitas has taken over responsibilities regarding board correspondence in mid-July. These tasks are completed by Novitas employee Gabriella Mahan. According to the July invoice, her duties have included receiving and cataloging board correspondence as well as drafting responses. Novitas bills the district $60/hour for Ms. Mahan’s work. Novitas charged the district over $3,400 to handle board correspondence from July 14th to July 31st. In the past, responding to board correspondence was handled primarily by the Board of Education Secretary.

On average, the district has spent over $14,000/month with Novitas. Novitas employees provided approximately 40-50 hours of work per week to the district. Depending on who completes the work, the fee ranges from $50-$200 per hour. The district will spend over $168,000 per year if the district continues to retain the services of Novitas at its current pace.

You’ll recall that Novitas was brought in to “help” then-Jeffco communications director Lisa Pinto with district public relations. Pinto herself announced her resignation from her job with the district in late May, after a brief but highly controversial period of disastrous press for the board majority and revelations about the process by which this longtime local Republican operative had been hired over a number of apparently better-qualified applicants.

It had been suggested to us by knowledgeable sources that Pinto’s term as the district’s chief communications officer resulted in the departure of numerous veteran employees from that department. Novitas’ assumption of responsibility for routine correspondence between the public and the board, along with the hiring of another Novitas employee full-time by the district in addition to their contract, would seem to validate the contention that the board majority’s decisions have run the district’s PR office straight into the ground–to be replaced by a group of highly-paid GOP public relations workers. CRE reports that Novitas’ contract has been renewed for a two-month period for the same $50,000 as the prior five months, obviously in anticipation of a high workload during the upcoming recall election targeting the board majority that hired them.

Only problem? Blowing your press relations budget is itself very bad press, and the timing could hardly be worse.

What kind of rotten decision-making process did CSU use in suspending the use of some fetal tissue?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

CSU President Tony Frank.

CSU President Tony Frank.

If you take a close look at Colorado State University President Tony Frank’s July 23 decision to suspend the school’s use of fetal tissue from vendors “implicated in the Planned Parenthood investigation,” you’re left wondering what kind of strange and half-assed process the University implemented in making its new policy.

There’s of course the overarching fact that journalists are saying Planned Parenthood has broken exactly zero laws, and you can be pretty sure that, if laws had been broken, the undercover anti-choice video tapers would have provided the evidence by now.

But beyond that, the description of the process by which CSU arrived at its decision, as described in Frank’s letter to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO Springs), raises serious doubts about whether the process was fair. (Lamborn had complained to Frank about CSU’s fetal-tissue policies.)

Frank: Since receiving your letter, I have reviewed the video that was released by the Center for Medical Progress; sought clarification on the points of law you’ve raised; and discussed the issue further with Colorado state Senator Kevin Lundberg, who provided additional insight. We also convened our Bioethics Advisory Committee to assess the known facts and make a recommendation directly to me regarding University practices going forward.

Frank “reviewed” the heavily edited video? He talked to Lundberg! Lundberg is a passionate advocate to be sure, but he  happens to be one of the least objective sources you could find in the entire state of Colorado, when it comes to abortion issues.

Frank makes no mention that he talked to any entity that might have given him Planned Parenthood’s perspective–and he writes as if he may not have even reviewed the unedited version of the Center for Medical Progress’ video.


Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

Evan Young, valedictorian of Twin Peaks Charter Academy.

Evan Young, valedictorian of Twin Peaks Charter Academy.

Recent controversial incidents between right-leaning administrators at Colorado public schools and students that we’ve covered in this space have not resolved themselves in favor of the rights of the students. Briefly revisiting a story we noted a few weeks ago, the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at Twin Peaks Charter Academy who was prevented from mentioning in his valedictory address that he is gay, where an inquiry commissioned by the school found no wrongdoing on the part of the school’s principal:

The Longmont charter school has come under fire from advocates and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, for preventing valedictorian Evan Young, 18, from giving a graduation speech in which he planned to out himself as gay.

Additionally, Young and his father have alleged that the man who made that decision, since-departed school principal BJ Buchmann, also outed Young to his parents.

Attorney William Bethke, who was hired by the Twin Peaks board, wrote in his 24-page report that schools can legally “exercise editorial control” over graduation speeches as long as the school’s action is “reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Those concerns may include “discipline, courtesy and respect for authority.”

The investigator concedes that the now-ex principal of Twin Peaks Charter Academy was “distinctly uncomfortable” with the student in question coming out as gay during the speech, but claims a larger “communication breakdown” led to the censoring of his speech. We’ve noted previously the role of far-right attorney Barry Arrington with this school, and other anecdotes we’ve heard that suggest Twin Peaks Charter Academy may be a thiny-veiled religious school masquerading as “public” to obtain public funding. The board of the school sent a letter to parent in response to this investigation that blasts outsiders’ attempts “to push their own political agendas.”

But isn’t being “distinctly uncomfortable” with a gay valedictorian a pretty clear expression of a political agenda?

Ken Witt.

Ken Witt.

The second case concerns the investigation of an incident at a Jefferson County school board meeting last May, in which a minor student’s name was displayed on an overhead projector while board chairman Ken Witt attacked the student as “racist” and declared that he would not meet with any group that included said student. Parents and teachers in attendance cried foul and demanded an investigation to determine if laws or district policies were broken. We were forwarded the result:

The discussion on the matter lasted approximately two minutes and during the discussion a public, social media posting of the student was displayed for 25 seconds. From the time Mr. Witt directed Ms. Neal to project the image through the time it was displayed during the meeting, the conversation focused on getting student voices to Board meetings with a suggestion from Ms. Dahlkemper to consider an approach similar to Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education. No discussion or reference was made to the image of the student while the social media posting was displayed. Of the five Board members present, none of them called into question the comments or the appropriateness of the display of the student post during the meeting. Because the posting displayed was from a public social media site and not a school maintained record, FERPA and District Policy JRA/JRC were not violated as FERPA only protects the privacy of student education records.

The complaining parties allege that Mr. Witt’s behavior constituted harassment and/or bullying and therefore Mr. McMinimee and Mr. Hess had an affirmative duty to intervene and stop the harassment and/or bullying. Policy JBB, Harassment of Students, explicitly prohibits “harassment based on an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, or disability.” The investigator concluded Mr. Witt did not violate this policy because there “is no indication that his attention to the issue was in any way related to a protected status of a student.”

In short, the investigation of this incident appears to validate the idea that board members in Jefferson County can say whatever they want to students as long as the students are not a member of a specifically protected class and official academic records aren’t being shared. By all accounts we’ve heard, the singling out of this minor student for baseless allegations of racism was a highly confrontational and inappropriate act by Witt. Critics of the board say the investigation’s scope was tightly controlled to avoid, among other things, the emotional distress Witt’s statements inflicted on the minor student.

In Longmont, the principal responsible for censoring the Twin Peaks Charter Academy valedictorian’s speech has since left the school. In Jefferson County, the alleged bullying of a minor student by Ken Witt has become part of a much longer list of grievances against the school board majority driving the recall election now underway. Without any other apparent remedy, the recall in Jefferson County may be the only check and balance left to protect students from a hostile, even abusive, school board.

In both cases, we think the highest priority of the adult officials involved–the kids–were tremendously disserved.