All four Republican Party-endorsed candidates easily won victories over their teachers’ union-endorsed opponents in the Douglas County school board election.
With just over 43,000 ballots cast, the four – John Carson, Dan Gerken, Doug Benevento and Meghann Silverthorn – each won with between 56 and 60 percent of the vote.
The election dramatically alters the shape of the school board, with incumbents Kristine Turner and Emily Hansen losing their seats on the seven-member board.
“I am shocked,” said Meghann Silverthorn, the upstart Defense Department analyst from Parker who appears to have defeated Hansen in District G. “Emily has done a lot in the past four years, and I am truly humbled. I’m grateful to the voters for the support they’ve given me, and I will not let them down.”
Silverthorn scoffed at allegations that the four GOP-endorsed candidates plan a massive overhaul of board policies. “It just isn’t true,” she said. “I want to move forward on what I campaigned on, which is increased transparency, helping parents meet the demand for charter schools, and putting in a better pay-for-performance system, because we have one now but it’s not funded and that’s not fair to teachers. We want to reform that. I also campaigned on math and science. I want to see all the things we can do in that area as well.”
Silverthorn was joined by fellow members of the GOP-endorsed quartet at a victory party at Dan Gerken’s Castle Pines home. Gerken was ebullient over the election results.
“I don’t want to sound boastful, but this is about how I thought it would turn out,” said Gerken, who defeated fellow Republican activist Kevin Leung for the District D seat. “I thought we were pretty effective in letting people know who we were, and based on that, we won.”
Indeed, the Douglas County Republican Party drew some sharp criticism for endorsing candidates in the traditionally non-partisan election, then pulling out all the stops to let voters know of the party’s preferences, including robo-calls that alleged the Republicans endorsed by the union had ties to ACORN, the controversial community organizing group. The tactics so riled incumbent Kristine Turner that she has indicated she will leave the Republican party. Turner, by the way, lost in District E to Doug Benevento.
Gerken says he thinks the role of the Republican Party in this election will set the stage for future involvement. “In the past, the only group that really played in the game was the teachers’ union,” he said. “In this election, the Republican Party weighed in. When you have a county that’s 50% Republicans, I can’t tell you how many events I went to where people said they never voted in school board elections because they didn’t know which candidates were Republicans. I think that’s sort of the plain and simple about this campaign.”
Biggest loser in Tuesday’s election may well be the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, who saw their endorsements go from being a point of pride for a candidate to a virtual political kiss of death.
“They not only made it anti-union, they pretty much made it anti-teacher,” said a disheartened Brenda Smith, president of the teachers’ union. “There was a lot of money spent,” she said, speculating on why the voters were so susceptible to the anti-union rhetoric of the campaign.
“I don’t know how much, but a lot more than we spent. I know they used the rhetoric of ‘the union is trying to take over the schools.’ And we’ve never, never had that in mind. We’ve never gone to a school board member that we’ve endorsed and requested them to do any favors for us. I can’t speak for Republican Party. I don’t know why they did it, but a lot of people just voted the party line. And that’s sad, because we had two good Republican Party candidates that the party did not endorse.”
Smith says that despite the disappointment, she’s not surprised by the results. “We’ll just see what these individuals do now, and if they’ll make decisions in the best interests of the kids.”
Douglas County Republican Party chairman John Ransom, himself the target of complaints about targeting fellow Republicans for defeat, said he doesn’t regret anything.
“We won,” he said. “The current board, as it was composed, was not in touch with the values of the community. And I certainly think the help of the Republican Party helped immensely.”