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The 2012 elections for 85 seats in the Colorado General Assembly are all about which party will be in control when the gavels fall in the House and Senate on Jan. 9.

But term limits, resignations and shifting district boundaries have created the potential for significant turnover at the Capitol, and some observers predict as many as 40 of the 100 legislators could be new. Both parties hope that fluid situation will give them an advantage.

Battle for control

Campaign finance

If Democrats take the House and hold the Senate, it’s possible school finance reform might get a closer look than it has in past sessions. Republican control of both houses might mean better chances for voucher and parent trigger bills, and for changes in the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, than has been the case under split partisan control.

When an election year rolls around, the education community looks at two kinds of races – the contests involving candidates with education backgrounds and the races that could decide control of the legislature.

This year, there’s one race that fits both categories. Two members of the House Education Committee, Democrat Andy Kerr and Republican Ken Summers, are facing off in Senate District 22, a new district created by the redrawing of district lines earlier this year.

Here’s a quick look at the races involving educators and the pivotal contests:

Most competitive races – House seats

  • House District 3 in northwestern Arapahoe County – Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan faces a tough challenge from GOP businessman Brian Watson in a district where the registration leans slightly Republican and where both candidates are spending freely.
  • House District 17 in southern Colorado Springs – Rep. Mark Barker, a former policeman, has tight race with Democrat Tony Exum, a retired firefighter. This is an El Paso County district that has possibilities for a Democrat, and Exum has been raising lots of money.
  • House District 18 in northwestern Colorado Springs – This tight contest pits Democratic Rep. Pete Lee, a lawyer, against GOP businesswoman Jennifer George. This is another El Paso swing district.
  • House District 23 in Golden area – Rep. Max Tyler, a Democratic businessman, faces Republican Rick Enstrom of the Enstrom Candies family. This is one of several battleground Jefferson County races that are drawing big spending.
  • House District 28 in Lakewood – Democratic community organizer Brittany Pettersen is battling Republican businesswoman Amy Attwood in an attempt to hold this seat for the Democrats.
  • House District 40 in Aurora – John Buckner, a long-time Cherry Creek administrator and principal, is the Democratic candidate opposing GOP Rep. Cindy Acree. This race is seen as one where the Democrat could knock off a Republican incumbent.
  • House District 47 in northern and eastern Pueblo County – Democratic rancher and former state administrator Chuck Rodosevich faces Republican Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff, a congressional office staffer. This is a seat Democrats are trying to hold.
  • House District 59 in Durango area – Republican Rep. J. Paul Brown is facing a strong challenge from Mike McLachlan, a former La Plata County prosecutor and state solicitor general.
  • House District 61 in Summit County and central mountains – Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, a former Summit County schools superintendent, faces two challengers, Republican artist Debra Irvine and independent Kathleen Curry. A former Democratic state representative, Curry made an unsuccessful independent run two years ago before district boundaries were redrawn. Hamner, a member of the House Education Committee, has emerging figure on education issues and was a prime sponsor of the Colorado READ Act earlier this year.

Most competitive races – Senate seats

  • Senate District 19 in Westminster area – Another key education figure at the Capitol, Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak, is at the center of another tight and high-spending Jeffco battle. She face Republican Lang Sias, who made an unsuccessful GOP congressional primary bid two years ago. Hudak is vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, a long-time education activist and former member of the State Board of Education. She was a prime sponsor of the 2009 law that changed the state’s system for evaluating and accrediting districts and schools.
  • Senate District 22 in central Lakewood and Ken Caryl area – The Andy Kerr-Ken Summers race is seen as the hottest of the Jeffco contests and as a Republican must-win if they hope to gain Senate control. Kerr is a curriculum specialist and teacher who sometimes takes a skeptical view of reform measures and who has been a tireless, if unsuccessful, proponent of bills to improve schools’ energy efficiency. Summers has been an active participant in education debates of recent years but not an initiator of major legislation.
  • Senate District 26 in Northwestern Arapahoe County – Democratic Sen. Linda Newell faces a tough challenge from Republican businessman Dave Kerber. Newell was a prime sponsor with Hudak of the 2011 bill to ease school zero-tolerance discipline policies.
  • Senate District 35 in south-central Colorado – Democrat Crestina Martinez, a Costilla County commissioner, face Republican Larry Crowder of Alamosa, whose background is in small business and ranching.

Other races of interest to education – House

  • House District 11 in Boulder – Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer, who was appointed to the seat, is attempting to hold it against Ellyn Hilliard, who has a background as a teacher and administrator at Waldorf schools.
  • House District 24 in Wheat Ridge area – Democratic Rep. Sue Schafer faces Republican E.V. Leyendecker. Schafer is a member of House Education and worked as a teacher and state Department of Education administrator.
  • House District 29 in Westminster area – Republican Rep. Robert Ramirez, also a member of House Education, is considered to be trailing Democrat Tracy Kraft-Tharp, a community activist. Ramirez considered challenging Hudak for the Senate before deciding to defend his House seat.
  • House District 35 in western Adams County – Democratic Rep. Cherylin Peniston, a former teacher and veteran House Education member, faces Republican Brian Vande Krol, a businessman.
  • House District 44 in Douglas County – Republican Rep. Chris Holbert, a member of House Education, doesn’t have a Democratic opponent.
  • House District 45 in Douglas County – Republican Rep. Carole Murray, a senior member of House Education, is expected to have an easy win over Democrat Tony Stoughton, a management consultant.
  • House District 50 in Greeley area – Democratic Rep. Dave Young, a former teacher, faces Republican insurance agent Skip Carlson.
  • House District 56 in Adams County – Republican Rep. Kevin Priola, a former House Education member, is considered to have comfortable lead on Democrat David Rose, a former teacher and principal.
  • House District 57 in northwestern Colorado – Democrat Jo Ann Baxter, a former teacher, Moffat County school board member and a member for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, faces Republican Robert Rankin, an engineer and former corporate executive.
  • House District 60 in Fremont and Chaffee counties – Republican Jim Wilson, a former teacher and superintendent for districts in Kansas and Colorado, is running against Democrat Pier Cohen, a contractor.

Other races of interest to education – Senate

  • Senate District 18 in western Boulder County – Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath, a member of Senate Education, is expected to retain his seat in the contest with Republican Barry Thoma, a retired engineer. Heath has been at the center of most of the significant K-12 and higher education legislation in recent years. He also was the chief proponent of the unsuccessful 2011 ballot measure to raise state taxes in order to provide more revenue for schools and colleges.
  • Senate District 28 in Aurora – Democrat Nancy Todd, a member of House Education and a retired teacher, is attempting to move to the Senate in this open seat. She faces Republican John Lyons, a retired diesel mechanic who is studying to become a teacher.
  • Senate District 33 in northeast Denver – Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston has been a leading figure on big education bills in recent years, including the educator effectiveness law (Senate Bill 10-191) and the READ Act this year. His seat is considered safe from the challenge by Republican Jason DeBerry (no website found).

Not in the running

For education, the 2012 legislative races may be most notable for who’s not on the ballot. Term limits and changed district boundaries mean some key education figures will be leaving the legislature.

Among those departing are Sens. Bob Bacon of Fort Collins, a Democrat, and Keith King of Colorado Springs and Nancy Spence of Centennial, both Republicans. Also leaving are Rep. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs, a Republican, and Rep. Judy Solano of Brighton, a Democrat.