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.

Jeffco School Board “Vindicated?” Far From It

Jefferson County school board protests.

Jefferson County school board protesters.

One of the major grievances against the right-wing Jefferson County school board majority driving the recall election now underway was an abortive proposal last fall by board member Julie Williams to set up a board-appointed “review” of recently revised AP U.S. History curriculum. Readers will recall the specific language of Williams’ proposal, which touched off huge student protests in Jefferson County:

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. [Pols emphasis] Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

After the protests against Williams’ proposal became literally international news, the Jeffco board quietly shelved the idea, announcing through their contracted public relations staff a few months later that the proposal was dead. Politically, it was a huge disaster for the board and their Republican backers in Jefferson County, dramatically raising the profile of the conflict over the school district’s new direction since conservative board candidates rode opposition to a failed tax increase measure to victory in 2013. Today, the attempt to “censor” Jeffco’s AP History curriculum is perhaps the best-known reason among the public justifying the recall–frequently cited by petition signers as their reason for doing so without any prompting.

Today, however, right-wing defenders of the Jeffco school board majority are claiming “vindication” of Williams after the College Board released another round of revisions to AP U.S. History framework intended to mollify conservative critics. From Newsweek’s latest issue:

The new framework significantly pares down last year’s framework, simplifying and condensing the course’s Thematic Learning Objectives from 50 to 19, according to an official at the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers AP exams. In the process, a new section on the concept of “American exceptionalism” has been added. Some names that were omitted from last year’s framework, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, have been added—a key sticking point for critics of the prior document, who objected to Founding Fathers being omitted and negative aspects in American history being more emphasized, they claimed, than positive periods. Ben Carson, a GOP presidential candidate, said the curriculum was so anti-American that students who complete it would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”

…In October, the College Board began accepting comment from teachers and the general public on the standards. In April, Trevor Packer, College Board’s head of AP, announced that revisions would be published in July based on the feedback.

Teachers Newsweek spoke with, who sat on a committee to draft the framework, stressed that the document was never meant to be a description of the totality of what an AP U.S. history teacher must teach, but rather a simplified outline that guides the course toward certain themes. [Pols emphasis] The impetus for the original revision, published last year, was to redirect the course away from rote memorization of facts and more toward “historical thinking skills,” according to Ted Dickson, a teacher at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina…

“The amount of press it got was entirely ridiculous because I don’t think they understood what it was meant to be. It was a framework that meant to let teachers understand the limits of what would be tested. You add examples, you teach it how you want to teach it, just make sure you teach these important concepts,” Hastings said. But critics saw it as excluding, among other things, favorite Founding Fathers and historical events that contribute to America’s legacy, such as its role in winning World War I and World War II. In the new framework, America’s military achievements are given a greater emphasis than in the last document.

Bottom line: the changes made by the College Board to the AP U.S. History curriculum are not anything like the sweeping and highly politicized review of history Williams sought last year. Making a few changes to specifically invoke certain names and events–the “rote memorization of facts” noted above–do not come close to Williams’ test of a history curriculum that “promotes patriotism, the free enterprise system, and respect for authority,” while avoiding “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

Because Williams’ proposal did tremendous damage to the credibility of the Jefferson County school board’s conservative majority, it makes sense that they would loudly declare any concession on the matter as “vindication.” If anything, these small concessions only cast Williams’ over-the-top proposal for a sweeping and politically slanted review of U.S. History into harsher relief. If throwing empty bromides like “American exceptionalism” and the name Benjamin Franklin into the framework is really enough to placate Williams, her criticisms were baseless to begin with.

But the truth is, Williams wanted much more than that. And this small concession won’t save her from an outraged and tuned-in Jeffco electorate.

John Newkirk Takes Personal Role In Recall Shenanigans

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

One of the things that we frequently cover as the political water cooler blog for Colorado are the cutesey games that opposing political campaigns often play against one another online. Over the years and often the result of tips from readers, we’ve broken the stories of hilarious errors on candidate websites, candidate photo shoots gone horribly wrong, and the occasional outright spoofing of an opponent’s site.

The main “independent” group opposing the recall of conservative members of the Jefferson County school board is a group known as Jeffco Students First. Jeffco Students First recently pulled off a trick at the expense of the pro-recall group Support Jeffco Kids, who had registered their website’s domain name, but had neglected to also register supportjeffcokids.COM–the site people are most likely to type in from memory. Jeffco Students First snapped up the .com domain name and repointed it at their own website–which will both confuse voters looking for more information and hurt the real Support Jeffco Kids’ Google ranking.

But this apparently wasn’t the only example of Jeffco Students First playing domain name games. Several other seemingly pro-recall domain names were bought up, apparently some time ago: including,, and These three domain names were all registered to the same domain registrar, Omnis Network. and were registered at 10:21PM on June 26 2014, at 10:27PM on June 26 2014. As you can see, someone was thinking ahead.

But here’s the newsworthy part: the latter two are NOT registered in the name of Jeffco Students First. They are registered in the personal name of Jeffco board member John Newkirk. Here are the relevant portions of the identifying WHOIS records for these three domains:


Jeffco Recall Campaign Turns In Over 111,000 Signatures

UPDATE: The Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland:

The Jefferson County Clerk has 15 business days to review the petitions and deem the signatures sufficient. After that, opponents have 15 days to protest or challenge signatures.

That’s where the cost could go from a low of about $10,000 to more than $500,000. The district will have to cover the costs, whether it’s for the November election or a special election.

According to Jeffco United for Action, which led the petition drive, if even one protest is filed, because of time constraints, there will not be enough time to get the recall onto the November ballot. The recall will instead take place through a special election, resulting in the $500,000 cost.

Gurdikian said she hopes the opponents recognize that there are more than enough signatures to get the issue to the ballot, and not waste taxpayer money by forcing a special election.

Westword’s Melanie Asmar:

Now, the clerks have fifteen days to validate the signatures. Then there’s a fifteen-day window for any protest of the validity of the signatures. McCord hopes that doesn’t happen. “If somebody does protest, they will drag us past the date by which we can get on the November ballot,” she says. “Then we end up in a special election that costs the district a whole lot of money that we don’t want to spend.”

The parents estimate that a special election would cost half a million dollars. “We got lots and lots of extra signatures,” McCord adds. “So there wouldn’t be any valid protest. It would be frivolous.”


Volunteers deliver Jefferson County recall petitions today.

Volunteers deliver Jefferson County recall petitions today.

A press release a short while ago from Jeffco United For Action announces the delivery of over 37,000 petition signatures to recall each of the conservative majority members of the Jefferson County school board: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams. This total dwarfs the required 15,000 signatures needed for each recall to proceed, virtually guaranteeing that Jefferson County voters will settle the question once and for all:

Today, Jeffco parents, educators and community members rolled over 111,000 signatures in little red wagons into the Jeffco Clerk’s office to recall Jeffco Schools Board of Education members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams. They turned in just over 37,000 signatures for each of the three board members to the Jefferson County Clerk & Recorder.

“We’ve seen such amazing support over the last few weeks. We have had people seeking us out at sporting events, coffee shops, grocery stores and parks all across the district to sign,” began Tina Gurdikian, a mom of two Jeffco Schools students.

“In an unprecedented move, we as a community collected more than double the number of signatures needed to recall school board members Witt, Newkirk and Williams. The message is clear, the people of Jefferson County want to hold this Board Majority accountable and demand a recall vote on November 3rd,” continued Gurdikian.

“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,” continued Wendy McCord, also a mom of Jeffco students.

Having crushed their original goal on a highly compressed schedule, recall organizers have done all they can to ensure that the recall questions appear on the regular November ballot in Jefferson County–which will both increase turnout and prevent the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to hold a separate recall election.

The only question? Whether the recall opponents who have complained all along about this possible added expense try to make it happen.

“Because of overlapping timelines for November elections and recall elections, for the Jeffco voters’ will to be honored we need our opponents not to play political games in attempting to protest what are clearly 15,000 valid signatures. 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. It is time for our community to have an honest conversation about the direction of our school district,” concluded Wendy McCord.

By all accounts recall organizers were surprised by the huge response to the recall petition drive, but turning in well over double the number of signatures required also serves an important strategic purpose. Accounting for delivery of mail ballots and the 15-day period for filing protests, the window in which to turn in signatures for the recall timed correctly to appear on the November ballot was quite small–only three days, July 28-30. If opponents choose to challenge the petition signatures line-by-line in an attempt to get enough thrown out to drop below the 15,000 minimum, it will most likely result in the recall being held after the first Tuesday in November. And that would indeed mean a large added expense to the school district.

In short, if opponents engage in an almost-certainly futile challenge of this overwhelming number of signatures, they will be the ones responsible for the additional hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the recall. The huge safety margin in turning in 37,000 signatures per board member when only 15,000 were required makes any such challenge either a fool’s errand or an act of intentional retaliation–with Jeffco students paying the price. And either way, it won’t stop the recall from going forward.

With all of this in mind, it would be better if the board majority just faces the proverbial music.

Jeffco Recall Opponent Channels Baghdad Bob in Response

Baghdad Bob.

Baghdad Bob.

Comical Ali. Baghdad Bob. The former Iraqi Information Minister (real name: Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf) secured his name in Internet infamy when he appeared regularly during the 2003 Iraqi Invasion to confidently deny the American surge into Baghdad and U.S. military success in general — sometimes with American tanks as his backdrop. As The Atlantic wrote in 2013:

Sahaf’s nickname, “Baghdad Bob,” now denotes someone who confidently declares what everyone else can see is false–someone so wrong, it’s funny.

Back here in Colorado, opponents of the campaign to recall three right-wing Jefferson County School Board members are channeling Baghdad Bob in their response to the news that more than 90,000 signatures supporting the recall were gathered in less than three weeks. This would be a massive success for a grassroots group for any issue on any level, which makes it difficult for opponents to tamper enthusiasm.

Enter Sheila Atwell, head of a group called “Jeffco Students First” that supports the right-wing majority school board. Atwell told 9News last weekend that she is surprised that it took 17 days to get the required signatures, saying that they should have been able to do it in a week:

We did the math here. In order to gather more than 90,000 signatures in just one week, organizers would have had to average 9 signatures PER MINUTE, 24 hours a day. That’s completely silly, of course.

Jeffco School Board Recall Petition Drive Wraps Triumphant

UPDATE 5:00PM: Recall organizers announce they will turn in over 30,000 signatures to recall each conservative majority Jeffco school board member, more than double the 15,000 required, to the Jefferson County Clerk’s office Tuesday morning:

Turn-In Tuesday

Join us as we turn in more than 30,000 Signatures For Each Board Majority Member!

We will be turning in more than double the required signatures to the Jeffco Clerk this Tuesday at noon. We would love lots of you to join us as we turn in these signatures. Please arrive by 11:30 am at the Clerk’s Election office (not at the Taj Mahal, but in a separate building).

Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder
3500 Illinois Street, Suite 1100
Golden, Colorado 80401

Once we turn in the signatures, we will turn our focus to the November election!


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

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

9NEWS’ Nelson Garcia reports, the campaign seeking to recall three far-right members of the Jefferson County Board of Education, Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams (collectively known as “WNW”) has reached its goal of 15,000 required signatures to recall each board member with a comfortable margin–a drive that took less than three weeks to complete despite a 60-day deadline.

“We’ve been collecting signatures for 17 days. Our goal was 20,000 to 25,000 signatures and have surpassed that goal already,” [Jeffco United for Action spox Lynea] Hansen said. “I think it also says very loudly and clearly that Jefferson County wants this recall.”

[Volunteer Lorelei] Bratton thought it would take longer to gather enough signatures.

“It’s been incredibly inspiring,” Bratton said.

Hansen says Witt, Newkirk, and Williams have shown a lack of transparency and have abused school board policy.

“Everybody’s really worried about the direction that JeffCo Schools is headed in and this is their answer to helping stop that change that isn’t good change.”

Jeffco recall petitions.

Jeffco recall petitions.

Having easily brought in the number of Jeffco voter signatures required in so little time, it’s basically assured now that the recall question will appear on the regular November ballot in Jefferson County, along with the two seats up for election this year currently held by outgoing progressive minority school board members. Again, this is a key development, since recall opponents’ messaging against the recall has up to now revolved around a huge expense for the district to hold a recall election. Organizers never planned anything but a recall election in November, however, and said so. Today, they can assure anybody who was concerned that the recall election will not cost the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The only thing we can add is that, by all accounts we have heard, the reason the petition drive was quick and easy is that the community in Jefferson County is keenly aware of what is going on in the battle over their school board. Voters who have no idea who, say, their state representative is are paying attention–and needed no convincing to sign the recall petition. The highly visible public protests carried out by Jeffco students last fall over the board majority’s disastrous proposed “review” of AP history curriculum, along with subsequent protests along Jeffco’s highest-traffic arterial street, have succeeded in making this school board a household discussion item–and the sentiment is overwhelmingly against what the right-wing board majority has done. High quality public schools are a major and longstanding point of civic pride for residents of Jefferson County, and they perceive that to be under threat.

As we’ve said before, what’s happening here can’t be manufactured. You couldn’t buy it for a billion dollars. It is an authentically grassroots uprising by a legitimately aggrieved community. In an era when seemingly every political “movement” is the product of some lavishly funded and focus-grouped professionalized action plan delivered from on high, it might even be called an inspiring thing to witness.

Either way, if the petition drive’s swift success is any indicator, God help “WNW.”

No matter who Julie Williams is comparing to Nazis, it’s gross

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Jeffco School Board member Julie Williams hopped on her Facebook page July 14 and shared a link titled, “How did the Nazis control education?”

“Controlling education was a way of taking over the minds of children from kindergarten to university,” reads the article, published by Yad Vesham The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. “Education was a major tool by which the Nazis’ racial policies were promoted and implemented. “In Nazi Germany, no one was allowed to think for themselves,” states the piece.

The post is shocking and confusing, which is in keeping with Williams behavior generally.

So I tried calling Williams so she could explain why she posted it, and to confirm, but I haven’t heard back yet.


Conservative Jeffco education group has notorious anti-gay lawyer

(Birds of a feather and so forth – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

GOP state senate candidate Tony Sanchez and Jeffco board member Julie Williams.

GOP state senate candidate Tony Sanchez and Jeffco board member Julie Williams.

Failed state senate candidate Tony Sanchez, who lost the SD-22 Jeffco race last year to Democrat Andy Kerr, is now directing an organization whose registered agent, Barry Arrington, has a history of making anti-LGBT comments and working for extremist groups.

Sanchez’s organization, Freedom for Education, was formed in May to “strive for greater transparency in the policy process and empower local parents/communities.”

Since then, according to its Facebook page, Sanchez has been representing the organization at Tea Party and Republican events, offering conservative perspectives on Jeffco education issues.

Arrington, the registered agent for Sanchez’s organization, surfaced earlier this year after Twin Peaks Charter Academy blocked its valedictorian from giving his graduation speech, in which the valedictorian planned to announce he was gay.

During the ensuing controversy, the school hired Arrington, who heads the Arrington Law Firm, to represent them in the matter, and Rep. Jared Polis asked that Arrington be fired because, “…some political agenda that I don’t understand might be clouding the quality of your advice to the Twin Peaks board.”

The “political agenda” was presumably Arrington’s history of anti-LGBT comments, such as his blog post last year in which he wrote:

“A man’s body is designed to be complementary with a woman’s body and vice versa. All of the confusion about whether same-sex relations are licit would be swept away in an instant if everyone acknowledged this obvious truth.”

Sanchez did not return a call seeking comment on whether his organization would be promoting Arrington’s views, given that the group’s name, Freedom for Education, is a bit of a head scratcher.


Jeffco Recall Petition Drive Nears Completion Weeks Early

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

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

As the Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela reports today, organizers of the petition drive to recall three right-wing members of the Jefferson County Board of Education are running way ahead of schedule, bringing in the 15,000 required Jeffco voter signatures to recall each school board member in a matter of a couple weeks instead of their nominal September 8th deadline:

Lynea Hansen, a spokeswoman for Jeffco United for Action, the group behind the recall effort, said Tuesday that the group is “over half way” to their signatures goal.

And, Hansen said, there are more than 1,000 petitions still being circulated. Petition circulators are being asked to turn in their signatures soon so organizers can start verifying names.

As part of a push for signatures this week, petition gatherers will line Wadsworth Boulevard at nine intersections from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Hansen said organized petition circulation is expected to wrap up by Saturday.

Successful completion of the petition drive so early guarantees that the recall of board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams will appear on the regular November ballot, along with the two candidates running to replace progressive minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman. One of the principal talking points in use by opponents of the recall is that the election could cost Jeffco Public Schools hundreds of thousands of dollars–but that’s only if the petition drive wasn’t wrapped up in time to hold the recall election in November.

Judging from what appears to be an overwhelming response from Jeffco voters in only two weeks’ time, that’s not going to be a problem. This recall is moving forward at a best-case-scenario pace, exceeding even internal expectations by all accounts, and that means it’s time for the opposition to come up with new talking points.

While they can.

Cory Gardner Helps Vote Down Anti-Bullying Bill

Sen. Cory Gardner.

Sen. Cory Gardner.

The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports on the defeat yesterday of an amendment from Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to protect K-12 LGBT students from bullying and discrimination:

In its first vote affecting gay people since the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, the Senate Tuesday rejected a federal prohibition against discrimination and bullying in K-12 public schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fifty-two Senators voted for such a provision, while 45 opposed it. But Senate rules required 60 votes, and the measure fell short.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the sponsor of the amendment, had made an impassioned argument that gay and transgender students needed the same federal protections as other historically persecuted groups.

“If a black child was referred to by a racial slur at school, would we say kids will be kids?” Franken said on the Senate floor as debate began Monday. “If a Jewish student got beat up because he wore a yarmulke to school, would we wave it off and say boys will be boys? If a shop teacher told a female student she didn’t belong in his class, would we be fine if the school just looked the other way? No, we would not. In fact, there are federal civil rights laws that are specifically designed to stop this kind of conduct.”

As Buzzfeed’s Dominick Holden reports, there was bipartisan support for Sen. Franken’s amendment:

Introduced by Sen. Franken of Minnesota, the amendment before lawmakers on Tuesday had 42 sponsors, including one Republican — Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. At least five more senators from the GOP — Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski, and Rob Portman — joined Kirk in voting for the amendment.

Missing from the list above of moderate Republican Senators who joined with Democrats to vote to stop LGBT student bullying is Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. We haven’t seen a statement from Gardner yet explaining his vote, but the general excuse offered by Republican “no” votes seems to be that “the matter” of LGBT students being bullied is best “left to local school districts.”

Assuming that was Gardner’s reasoning as well, we can’t help but recall the recent controversy in Jefferson County, in which majority school board member Julie Williams posted materials on Facebook directing followers to join a protest against LGBT students on campus, and against teaching “children to support and embrace the unnatural and unhealthy homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.”

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a better argument to refute Gardner’s vote for “local control” of LGBT student bullying policies than Julie Williams. We’ll be very interested to see if local reporters ask Gardner to reconcile his vote with her behavior.