Scrubbing Jeffco Schools Clean of Partisan Turd-Shiners

millerAs the Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland reported yesterday, two of the more controversial expenditures approved by the outgoing right-wing majority on the Jefferson County school board are swiftly going the way of the dodo following this month’s blowout recall election:

Brad Miller, the attorney hired by the conservative majority that was ousted in this month’s recall election, resigned this morning.

Miller was hired by the Jeffco board just a month after the November, 2013 election, a hiring that some have claimed violated the state’s open meetings law.

In his resignation email to board liaison Helen Neal, Miller cited the incoming school board’s desire to use the district’s legal counsel and statements by new board members that they would not need a private attorney…

As our readers will recall, the hiring of attorney Brad Miller by Jeffco Schools was hotly controversial, both due to his shady, very possibly illegal approval process, and his known-quantity status as an insider advocate for charter schools. According to the Denver Post’s report today, Miller’s contract stipulated $7,500 monthly for “services not to exceed 30 hours per month.” Nice work if you can get it!

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

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

As Goodland continues at the Independent, Miller isn’t the only line-item from the old board’s tenure being shown the door:

Saturday, the school district posted a job opening for a chief communications officer. Those duties have been handled lately by Novitas Communications and Michelle Balch Lyng.

Novitas, a public-relations firm, was brought in last February, under a $50,000 five-month contract, to handle “supplemental communications duties.”

Novitas was hired by Lisa Pinto, who served as communications chief for less than six months. Pinto, an attorney with no background in public education communications, was deemed unqualified by the district search committee. Hired by Superintendent Dan McMinimee, she was frequently criticized for unprofessional behavior. After Pinto resigned, Lyng became the district’s chief spokesperson…

In retrospect, Novitas Communications’ service to Jefferson County Public Schools was an unqualified disaster. A solidly GOP-aligned public relations outfit staffed by local Republican usual suspects, Novitas was brought in to “supplement” the work of another longtime Republican Party communications flack, Lisa Pinto. Pinto’s lack of qualifications and by-all-accounts horrible interpersonal skills necessitated Novitas’ “help”–which ironically even more pointedly demonstrated Pinto’s uselessness, and hastened her departure a short while later under a considerable cloud.

But in the end, as is now a matter of history, Novitas couldn’t save the board majority that hired them.

Observers expect that the new Jeffco school board majority will work toward re-establishing the status quo ante in the district’s public relations office, using qualified district employees instead of high-priced contractors. Likewise with the board’s need for legal counsel. We haven’t heard if that future will include ex-Novitas GOP media operative Devan Crean, but we could certainly see how it might not.

The moral of the story: when your agenda for your organization is constructive instead of malicious, there’s less need for all that, you know, “outside help.”

Dems Take Aim At Laura Woods on Veterans Day

A press release from the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund on a new ad (above) playing on cable in Senate District 19, the ultra-swing Jefferson County district held by hard-right Sen. Laura Waters Woods expected to play a central role in the Democratic strategy to retake the Colorado Senate in 2016:

The Democratic Senate Campaign Fund (DSCF), an initiative of the Colorado Democratic Party, launched an ad today highlighting State Senator Laura Woods’ hypocrisy on veteran’s issues. The ad was spurred by a recent Woods Facebook post about Veterans Day writing she supports veterans – “I am reminded I owe each veteran a debt I can never repay.” Woods can never repay because she repeatedly votes against veterans.

“Laura Woods does not get to call herself a patriot just because she posts a flag on Facebook or carries a sign in a parade. She’s playing politics with our veterans and it makes me sick to my stomach,” said Korean Era Veteran Dennis Larsen. Larsen explained, “I’m a veteran in Laura Woods’ district, and I want answers. Why has Laura voted against those of us who have put their lives on the line for our country?”

Beginning with Woods’ statement that she refers to herself as a, “liberty-minded patriot,” the ad outlines some of Woods’ harmful votes against veterans. This includes her vote against tax breaks for veterans (HB 15-1181), against in-state tuition for dependents of active duty military members who have attended school in Colorado (HB 15-1215), and her “no” vote on establishing employment services for veterans (HB 15-1030) seeking job training. The ad ends, “Laura Woods. What a hypocrite.”

“Laura needs to explain her record. Why did she vote against the majority of her party and against veterans? What would drive someone to vote for not taxing soft drinks (SB 15-274), but then vote to tax active duty service men and women (HB 15-1181),” said Andrew Short, Executive Director of the DSCF.

It’s a good ad that makes a number of hard-hitting points in rapid succession, and ends with a simple message: “what a hypocrite.” Taking advantage of the seasonal lull in political ads just after the election, it’s actually a very good time to plant messages on low-name ID downballot candidates like Sen. Laura Waters Woods–whose negatives Democrats hope will become her story ahead of 2016’s hottest state senate race.

As just these few votes demonstrate, they’ve got plenty to work with.

Why do Colorado Senate Republicans think it’s a good idea to attack Jeffco voters?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Senate President Bill Cadman (R).

Senate President Bill Cadman (R).

Control of the Colorado Senate swings in the balance next year, with the Democrats hoping to pick up one itsy bitsy state Senate seat and the Republicans clinging to a majority of one itsy bitsy Senate seat. And that seat is most likely in Jefferson County.

With this in mind, after last night’s uprising against conservatives in said Jefferson County, you’d think the Republicans’ official Senate Facebook page would speak in a humble tone, with an eye on the not-so-far-away-longer-term.

Instead, the Colorado Senate GOP lashed out at the Jeffco electorate, which, did I mention, will be voting again in just 12 months (or, about 364 days).

Here’s what the Colorado Senate GOP Facebook page had to say, in a statement that deserved wide coverage:

Parents not willing to support school reform get what they vote for — reform-resistant status quo schools run according to union shop rules. If that’s good enough for their kids, so be it. It’s the students, not the parents, who will live with the consequences.

Do Colorado Senate Republicans hope to hold their Jeffco swing districts with this attack line? Do they think attacking the Jeffco parents is a winning strategy for 2016?  It’s a legitimate question for reporters to put to Senate Republicans, given what they said today on Facebook.

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee: Please Don’t Fire Me

THURSDAY UPDATE: As the Denver Post’s John Aguilar reports today, Jeffco school board victors are showing considerable magnanimity to Superintendent Dan McMinimee, at least for now and perhaps in part due to a hefty “golden parachute” worked into his contract signed with the outgoing board:

With the dust clearing on a tumultuous recall election in Jefferson County and a significant turnover on the Douglas County school board, newly elected leaders in both school districts spent Wednesday mapping out the future.

That included the future of Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee, whose compensation package was fuel for Tuesday’s successful recall effort. But the leader of the state’s second-largest school district won’t be shown the door anytime soon.

“If he’s willing to take direction from the board and is capable of implementing its policy, I don’t think he has anything to worry about,” said Brad Rupert, an Arvada attorney who will take over the seat of ousted board member Julie Williams.

All we can say is, that’s pretty big of them.


Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

At 7:15PM last night, just after the election returns dumped in from Jefferson County showing victory for the recall campaign against the Jeffco school board majority, Superintendent Dan McMinimee, the highly controversial hire from conservative Douglas County that helped drive the recall campaign, sent out this contrite little message to school district employees:

With the polls now closed and the campaigns for our School Board concluded, I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts with you.

I want to begin by thanking you all for keeping student growth, both academically as well as socially and emotionally, the focus of your daily efforts. Having visited over 70 schools so far this school year, I can assure our various communities that our school leaders, teachers, and staff are all working diligently to improve our practices that support student learning. I want to especially thank our school leaders for ensuring that we maintained a neutral position on the election and campaigns during the past few months. I know that you were often challenged by well-meaning stakeholders wanting to use our schools and communication channels for their particular campaign issues. I appreciate your efforts to make our community members feel respected while educating them on our need, as a system, to remain neutral.

It is important for all of us, as Jeffco employees, to recognize that elections, by their nature, have winners and losers. Our school communities often have both sides of an election represented in their schools and classrooms. It is vital that we acknowledge this reality and continue to maintain a neutral position on the outcome of the election… [Pols emphasis]

While we are of course not aware of any decision that has yet been made about McMinimee’s future as Jeffco Schools superintendent, the circumstances of his controversial hire–as well as his conduct as superintendent, working in what was by all accounts close concert with the right-wing board majority that was recalled from office yesterday–make it a fairly safe bet that McMinimee will not be in his $280,000 job for very much longer. The simple fact is that this was not a close election, and McMinimee’s position as superintendent was one of the chief points of contention in the recall campaign.

Maybe if he hadn’t embarrassed the district by chumping the governor of Colorado? Maybe if he hadn’t hired that totally incompetent political hack communications director? Maybe if he hadn’t threatened teachers with retaliation if they didn’t stop their meddling protests? Maybe if he had tried, at least tried, to stand up against the bullying of students in school board meetings?

Time to polish up that resumé, Dan. We’d say it’s back to P.E. class for you.

Earth-Shaking Jeffco Recall Victory Confounds Local Media

Jeffco recall supporters celebrate last night.

Jeffco recall supporters celebrate last night.

To kick off our recap of 2015’s biggest election in Colorado, last night’s landslide recall of the right-wing majority on the Jefferson County school board, we’re skipping our feckless local media and going straight to the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss:

Voters in the Denver suburb of Jefferson County on Tuesday tossed out three conservative members in a recall vote that was marked by some $1 million in spending, including support for the incumbents from a Koch-backed organization. The school board earned national attention when the members in 2014 said the Advanced Placement U.S. History course was not patriotic enough and needed to be changed…

In Jefferson County, Julie Williams, Ken Witt and John Newkirk have been in office for two years. They won seats in 2013 on the five-member board and moved quickly to institute controversial school reforms, including a merit pay system for teachers and an educator evaluation system that used student test scores.

Public school activists charged that the three were part of a reform movement trying to privatize public education and started a recall effort that attracted national attention, including money from outside the state from partisans on both sides. Americans for Prosperity, the national organization founded by Charles and David Koch, contributed to the reformers, while unions supported their opponents. Some $1 million was believed to have been spent in the race, one of a few local elections around the country in which outside money played a role.

Jon Caldara.

Jon Caldara.

In the days leading up to the election in Jefferson County, conservative opponents of the recall led by activist firebrand Jon Caldara’s Independence Institute and national “astroturf” organizing group Americans for Prosperity pulled out all the proverbial stops in an attempt to re-energize the “Tea Party” electorate that had put this school board majority in power in 2013.

But it wasn’t just conservative groups: the local media showed distressing bias against the recall effort, both in editorial and “hard news” coverage. This bias was most evident in the continuous dismissal of the recall campaign as a “union effort” in supposedly objective news reports. High-visibility events like the “Boots on the Boulevard” protests along Wadsworth were ignored with no explanation. Then, just before Tuesday’s election, Denver’s highest-rated television news station 9NEWS apologized for a “Truth Test” of an anti-recall ad that conservative recall opponents didn’t like. The abject, debasing apology offered by Kyle Clark for that “Truth Test” simply doesn’t make sense given the difference of interpretation over Superintendent Dan McMinimee’s salary their supposed “error” boiled down to.

Because 9NEWS has a reputation for not being anyone’s squish, we’re quite curious to know who was able to ring their proverbial bell this way. It was out of character to say the least.

Today, there’s plenty of blame to go around for this lopsided defeat that the local press didn’t see coming: Caldara’s shameless exploitation of the children of school board members in campaign ads, including Julie Williams’ special-needs son, should be remembered as a ugly low point in our state’s political history that rightfully backfired. Overall, Caldara’s brash style of emotional manipulation and unapologetically devious tactics was powerfully repudiated in yesterday’s elections. AFP’s vaunted field operations came up totally empty. “Independent” local pundits the press relies on like Floyd Ciruli and Eric Sondermann revealed themselves as fundamentally clueless about the electorate on which they were pontificating.

As our state’s foremost bellwether suburban population center, what happened last night in Jefferson County is hugely prophetic for the direction of Colorado politics. Democrats have finally broken the curse of off-year elections going famously badly for them, and established critical momentum going into next year’s general election in a county whose voters can swing the entire state. Without a doubt, Democratic campaigns at every level of American politics are looking at these results and thinking big.

As for our local media? They can either tell the story of this new reality, or be left behind by it.

Election Night Open Thread

You may begin…

Jefferson County Election Results

♦ Colorado Election Results (via Secretary of State’s Office)

♦ Denver Post results page

UPDATE #3: After getting off to a scary start, Proposition BB (Marijuana taxes) has rebounded:

Proposition BB
YES: 510,953 (66.51%)
NO: 257,264 (33.49%)

UPDATE #2: The closest race of the night might be in Lakewood, where the race for the next Mayor is neck-and-neck:

Adam Paul: 17,217 (50.09%)
Ramey Johnson: 17,153 (49.91%)

UPDATE #1: First batch of numbers are out in Jefferson County, and the recall is well on its way to becoming a runaway winner…

Jefferson County School District Open Seats:

District 3
Ali Lasell: 74,749 (57.95%)
Kim Johnson: 54,245 (42.05%)

District 4
Amanda Stevens: 85,037 (67%)
Tori Merritts: 42,324 (33%)


Recall Election
District 1 (Julie Williams)
YES: 96,160 (64.4%)
NO: 53,178 (35.6%)

District 2 (John Newkirk)
YES: 94,871 (63.8%)
NO: 53,841 (36.2%)

District 5 (Ken Witt)
YES: 95,509 (64.38%)
NO: 52,848 (35.6%)

Poll: Will The Jeffco School Board Majority Be Recalled?

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

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

This year’s biggest election in Colorado is only open to voters residing in the Jefferson County R-1 School District, which includes Jefferson County and a small portion of the City and County of Broomfield. Voters in this district are deciding on a recall of three right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County Board of Education: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams, in addition to two open seats previously held by progressive retiring board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper.

Please vote in our unscientific poll below. Remember as always that we’re not looking for your preference, we want you to tell us what you actually think will happen tomorrow when the polls close and votes are finally counted.


Witt says Jeffco teachers “bring students” (pawn-like) into Jeffco recall fight

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt.

Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt.

On KNUS 710-AM’s Weekend Wakeup with Chuck Bonniwell and July Hayden Saturday, embattled Jeffco School Board Chair Ken Witt continued his attack on Jeffco teachers and students, saying that students are essentially pawns, “brought into this kind of thing” to advance the agenda of teachers and unions.

Questioned by Hayden, Witt said:

Witt: It’s absolutely the case that passions run high in education. And it’s unfortunate when our educators get involved in the passion, and bring students into it, instead of keeping it outside and the dialogue outside the school grounds… The unfortunate fact is that as these kinds of dialogues happen about education, particularly the union, brings those who are actually delivering the education into the fray, if you will. Unfortunately, there is some spillover into the classrooms. And of course it’s never appropriate for our students to be brought into this kind of a thing.

Bonniwell: Well, the children are pawns…

Witt: Yeah. It is unfortunate.

The accusation that students and others in Jeffco are pawns of the teachers’ unions, or somehow brought into the debate agains their will, is demonstrably false, as everyone knows after seeing the spontaneous protests against Witt, Williams, and Newkirk’s policies.

Why Witt keeps saying it, particuarly as he’s fighting to save his seat on the Jeffco Board is beyond me, because it damages him. It insults the intelligence of the students and community.

Listen to the entire interview below, where he discusses this and other issues in more detail, even citing a instance when he says his kid was bullied:


List of Ballot Drop-Off Locations in Jefferson County

If you still have not returned your mail ballot for the 2015 election, you should head to a ballot drop-off site. Remember: Ballots must be received by the County Clerk no later than 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Ballots that are postmarked before Nov. 3 but received after 7:00 will not be counted.

Go to to check your voter registration status or to print out a sample ballot. You can also check out for more information. For more details on local school board elections, check out ProgressNow Colorado’s voter guide.

If you are a Jefferson County voter, you can view a list of ballot drop-off locations after the jump…


Floyd Ciruli: The Tweedle-Dum of Colorado Politics

Floyd Ciruli.

Floyd Ciruli.

We took note a couple of weeks ago when an often-quoted “independent” Colorado political pundit, former SE2 principal Eric Sondermann, had what can be best described as a sexist meltdown via Twitter during the Democratic presidential debate–deploring Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s “cackle” of a laugh, and suggesting that she and opponent Bernie Sanders “adjourn to a room upstairs” after Sanders came to Clinton’s defense.

Despite a wealth of eloquent opinionmakers available to ring for comment at any time in Colorado politics, some who might actually be plausibly considered “independent” for the purposes of fair-minded journalism, there’s a disturbing lazy tendency among local political reporters to rely heavily on two middle-aged white dudes whose opinions tend to be anything but “independent” (or, for that matter, “informed” or “useful”). We’re referring of course to the aforementioned Eric Sondermann and 9NEWS “analyst” Floyd Ciruli, who we affectionately call the “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum of Colorado politics.”

The latest example of Ciruli’s special brand of “independent” skullduggery occurred on this weekend’s edition of Balance of Power. A show that often features some of the more insightful political reporting to be had on Denver TV, Sunday’s broadcast turned into an upsettingly slanted look at the Jefferson County school board recall. It didn’t help that host Brandon Rittiman and education reporter Nelson Garcia invoked the word “union” in just about every sentence, to the point of using the word as a substitute for actually explaining what they’re talking about. But Ciruli’s over-the-top union bashing dragged the conversation into downright silliness. In Ciruli’s view, neighborhood schools are “union-run schools,” and “fundamentally” the recall election is all about the evil teacher’s union’s desire to stop every good thing happening in education today.

Apparently it doesn’t matter a bit that the union and the school board signed a contract.

Considering the parents and other stakeholders that have no “union” affiliations whatsoever and are the faces of the recall campaign, and the fact that while some by no means all, or even a majority of funding for the recall campaign is from unions, yesterday’s Balance of Power was a bizarre capitulation to one side’s talking points. For all the respect we have for the reporters involved, it was not 9NEWS’ best work.

But for Floyd Ciruli, who may have run the Colorado Democratic Party back when they lost every election but today is a wholesale shill for very much un-democratic interests, it was par for the course.

“Boots On The Boulevard 3.0” Dominates Wadsworth–Again


If you live just about anywhere in suburban Jefferson County, it was hard to miss the latest miles-long visibility effort yesterday afternoon from supporters of the recall election underway against the right-wing majority on the Jefferson County school board. For the third time since the new board majority was elected, a massive “Boots on the Boulevard” protest lined the county’s busiest surface street, Wadsworth Boulevard, with thousands of students, parents, and teachers–this time armed with a specific message (recall) and a “Clean Slate” of replacement candidates whose names were on every corner.

Surprisingly, there has been no press coverage of yesterday’s demonstration that we can find in any local outlet. That’s not easy to explain, but given the enormous numbers of Jeffco voters who saw these demonstrators along Wadsworth yesterday…maybe it doesn’t matter if the media decides to ignore them. In lieu of responsible press coverage, we’ve assembled some photos and video of yesterday’s event for posterity from social media:



UPDATE: Jeffco Recall Gets Very Ugly, Very Fast

UPDATE: Via Support Jeffco Kids–in response to today’s video from Julie Williams, a Colorado Open Records Act request was filed seeking more information about this alleged incident of her son, a special needs student at Standley Lake High School, being made to participate in a protest against his mother. In response, Jefferson County Schools confirmed that the alleged incident was reported by Williams to have occurred in September of 2014–many months before the recall campaign ever began.

And then they confirmed something else–there’s no evidence it ever happened. From the investigation report obtained in today’s CORA request:

On September 24th, 2014, I received an email from Dan McMinimee that attorney Brad Miller was asked to reach out to me by Board Member Juie Williams. Ms. Williams had informed Mr. Miller that her son, a special needs student was used as a “prop” to carry a protest sign during a parade at Standley Lake High School.

I spoke to Mr. Miller who provided a date of September 8th, 2014 as the date the incident occurred on. I assigned the video surveillance review to Manager of Security Operations Bill Kitamura and then contacted SLHS Principal Jeff Pierson and discussed the allegations. Principal Pierson was adamant that neither a parade nor protect occurred at or in the school. [Pols emphasis]

Bill Kitamura and an emergency dispatcher together reviewed 30 hours of video from 15 cameras for the September 8th, the date that was provided to us. Nothing was found to indicate a parade or protest during this time period.

Here’s the full letter. According to investigators, Williams then suggested other days the incident could have occurred. In response to those suggestions, school security officials reviewed a total of 240 hours of video, and were “unable to substantiate that such an event had occurred.” The investigation was then closed.

And with that, Williams’ exploitation of her disabled son in this emotionally manipulative video becomes a deeply troubling thing. Original post follows.


This morning, the right-wing Independence Institute released a new video spot featuring embattled Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams. In today’s video, Williams makes a tearful accusation involving her son Randy, who is identified in the video as a “special needs student.”


In this video, Julie Williams describes an incident where her son allegedly marched in a parade that included signs denouncing his mother. Interspersed with black-and-white shots of young Randy looking sad, Williams claims with tears welling in her eyes that the incident “has scarred him forever.”

For starters, the video doesn’t explain anything about when or where this alleged incident took place. Nothing is explained about the circumstances by which Williams’ son would have joined any pro-recall parade, or who might have asked him to do so. There’s not even a specific claim that Williams’ son held a pro-recall sign, only that he saw one, and that this apparently hurt the boy’s feelings. There is of course every possibility that Williams’ son might see pro-recall signage from time to time, like just about anybody who lives in Jefferson County today.

A 7NEWS report from over a year ago, while the controversy over Williams’ proposal to “review” the district’s AP U.S. History curriculum using politically-stilted criteria, may contain a description of the same incident–with far less acrimony:

Williams says her 16-year-old autistic son attends Standley Lake High School, where protests have occurred. Teachers have also picketed outside the school in recent weeks.

“I believe they’re picketing and targeting that specific school because he’s there and I’m his mom,” said Williams.

Williams said her son told her he participated in a “parade.”

“Are they forcing him to participate?” asked Haythorn.

“I don’t know what’s happening. I can’t imagine they would force him,” said Williams. [Pols emphasis] “But, he doesn’t understand what this is. He thinks it’s a parade. He was excited.”

Jon Caldara.

Jon Caldara.

Between then and now, Williams’ story has apparently “evolved” into something much more coercive? Since the recall campaign didn’t even start until school was out this summer, the timeline seems hard to reconcile. But either way, we can tell you with some degree of confidence that there is no photo of Randy Williams holding a anti-Julie Williams sign being circulated by recall proponents. And that’s good, because it would be in very poor taste. There would be absolutely no political value in doing something like that.

All we have is this video of Randy looking on sadly while Julie Williams makes a bunch of allegations that nobody can prove, and appear to contradict what she said a year ago. In a video released by the Independence Institute, whose director Jon Caldara has repeatedly and crassly exploited tragedy in order to join political leverage. In 2013, Caldara claimed the deadly Front Range floods “forced” him to “move back” to Boulder from Colorado Springs, helping him outmaneuver charges of election fraud. Before then, Caldara actually claimed Obamacare would result in his “losing another child”–a reference to one of his children who had tragically died of cancer years before.

Folks, if anything like what Williams vaguely alleges occurred in this video can be proved to have actually occurred–meaning that someone purposefully exploited Williams’ special needs son into marching against his mother–we would immediately join in condemning it.

Not only is there no evidence of that, the only “exploitation” we can see is Randy being exploited in this video. That leaves us disgusted, though not in the way Julie Williams and Jon Caldara intended.

Jeffco Recall Opponents Get Shifty–Because They Can

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

This off-year’s biggest race in Colorado by a considerable margin is the recall election underway against the right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County school board. Gabrielle Porter at the Canyon Courier wrote an excellent story last week on the “outside” groups playing in this race on both sides. For those of us familiar with the interplay between candidates, independent message groups, and the money that makes it all come together, a lot of this story explains processes you know.

But there is something a bit odd, even for those of us who follow this game regularly:

On the incumbents’ side, a nonprofit group with conservative ties has funded television ads featuring [board member Julie] Williams that toe — but do not cross — lines that would require it to disclose finances…

Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause’s senior policy counsel and legal director, said that while he hadn’t seen the ad featuring Williams, political operatives frequently take advantage of vagueness in campaign finance law.

“When a candidate is appearing in a C-4 ad, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, people can decide whether it really is a campaign ad,” Spaulding said. “Voters can really easily suss out when something looks like a campaign ad and when the rules are being exploited.”

Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said considering that Williams is not restricted by donation limits in this race, the nonprofit could have easily donated funds directly to her, and she could then have run a campaign ad with a call to action. [Pols emphasis]

“Games are being played. That’s what’s going on. … It’s not at all typical and sounds like somebody’s intentionally pushing the envelope to see how much they can get away with …,” Toro said. “There’s no reason they couldn’t have just given her the money or just run an ad that just says, ‘Vote for me’ … The only reason to do it that way is to avoid disclosure.”

Jon Caldara.

Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute.

What’s particularly strange about these ads featuring Jeffco school board member Julie Williams from the right-wing Independence Institute, a nonprofit charity that does not disclose its donors, is that they don’t have to be run through a independent group at all. School board races in Colorado are not subject to the same strict contribution limits that most other candidates must abide by. Whoever paid for these ads could have simply written a check to Williams’ campaign to produce them. Heck, they could have done the whole production of the ad as an in-kind contribution to Williams’ campaign. What’s more, the ad could advocate much more directly if it came from Williams’ campaign. By running this ad through the Independence Institute, its content is significantly hobbled.

Williams said the creators of the ads never talked to her about how much they would cost, and said she didn’t know how many slots were purchased.

“I was just offered the opportunity to do the commercial …,” Williams said. “I think, as a candidate, you’re not supposed to know some of that.” [Pols emphasis]

In any normal circumstance, as a candidate who is actually appearing in the ad, you would want to know these things–wouldn’t you? Williams’ response to questions about the propriety of the ad she appears in sounds incredibly bad, but part of it simply reflects the strange rules that govern this school board recall election–versus virtually every other kind of election in Colorado that involves candidates for office. Whoever is paying for these ads in support of Williams is doing it this way on purpose, so you’ll never know who they are. Because there’s no other reason to do it.

And if the funders don’t want you to know who they are, there’s usually a reason for that too.

Jeffco School Board Candidate Won’t Say if She Actually Lives in the County

Jeffco School Board candidate Regan Benson may not live anywhere near the district.

Jeffco School Board candidate Regan Benson may not live anywhere near the district.

There was an interesting story in the Columbine Courier on Wednesday that you definitely need to read — particularly if you are a Jefferson County Voter.

Republican Regan Benson is running for a seat on the Jefferson County School Board in District 5. If School Board President Ken Witt is forced out in the recall election, Benson could end up being his replacement in District 5. This could lead to even more drama in Jeffco School Board politics, because it appears likely that Benson actually lives about 150 miles away — in Akron, Colorado. 

As Doug Bell reports for the Courier:

Benson has not directly responded to repeated questions about whether she lives in Jefferson County. She told Evergreen Newspapers in 2012 that her family had moved to Akron, a town in eastern Colorado, in part because of dissatisfaction with the Jeffco school district. Since declaring her candidacy, however, Benson has said only that she is still a registered Jeffco voter in District 5.

“I don’t believe it prudent to the issues of running for a local school board position to publish my address,” Benson said. [Pols emphasis]

Beth Clippinger, assistant to Jeffco Clerk Faye Griffin, said state statute requires school board candidates to be registered voters for 12 consecutive months before the election, and that Benson registered as a Jeffco voter in November 2013.

Regan Benson could have one hell of a commute if she is elected to the Jeffco School Board.

Regan Benson could have one hell of a commute if she is elected to the Jeffco School Board.

It may not be particularly relevant to publish Benson’s exact address(es), but it is certainly worth noting if she doesn’t live anywhere near Jefferson County, which appears likely. Benson apparently answered questions from the Columbine Courier via email — the story notes that she declined a telephone interview — and says that she decided to run for Jeffco School Board even though she opposes the recall effort.

While we can’t say for sure where Benson might rest her head at night, voter registration information is a matter of public record and fairly easy to check. Benson is a registered Jefferson County voter with an address in Morrison (Willow Springs), but her voter registration record also lists an address in Akron, Colorado — about 150 miles to the east. When there are two separate residences listed for a particular voter, it usually means that the second address is the destination for mail ballots.

Benson probably collects her mail ballot in Akron, and she refuses to say if she actually lives in Jefferson County, which is a weird thing to do if she really does live in Jeffco — what would be the point of dodging that question otherwise? And then there’s this:

Benson, who said she has never before run for office, said all three of her sons have in the past attended Jeffco schools, although her youngest son now attends school in another district.

The law doesn’t mandate that Benson actually live in Jefferson County so long as her voter registration is there, but why would you want to run for a school board position in an area that is 150 miles from your home? Jeffco has seen Republican candidates for school board in prior years who home-school their children, so it wouldn’t be new for someone to seek a Board spot with no obvious connection to the school district. But this — well, we’ve got to admit that we’ve never seen this before.