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Politics makes changing bedfellows

The Colorado Education Association may be the 800-pound education group in Colorado politics, but that doesn’t mean other interest groups aren’t trying to weigh in on 2010 legislative races.

To get a sense for who’s supporting whom, Education News Colorado reviewed legislative candidate contributions by the CEA-affiliated Public Education Committee and the AFT Colorado Federation of Teachers, School, Health and Public Employees Small Donor Committee, along with endorsements or contributions by three other groups.

Those are the Colorado Association of School Executives, a federation of school administrator groups, which makes endorsements; the Democrats for Education Reform Small Donor Committee, which makes a limited number of contributions; and Stand for Children, which makes endorsements and has a small donor committee.

Four other education groups that are active in legislative lobbying and in some ballot measure campaigns do not endorse candidates. They are the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado PTA, the Colorado League of Charter Schools and Great Education Colorado.

The common thread among the five groups reviewed is that they overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates. Of the more than 130 contributions or endorsements by the five groups, 90 percent went to Democrats. Only CASE, with eight of 32 candidates, and Stand for Children, wih five of 18, endorsed Republicans. Stand also endorsed the legislature’s only independent, former Democratic Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison.

The five groups cover a majority of the legislative races on the ballot – 47 of 65 House contests and 16 of 19 Senate races. Because senators serve four-year terms, an additional 16 Senate seats aren’t up for election this year this year.

But individual group contributions and endorsements don’t necessarily follow simple patterns. Teachers unions like CEA and AFT-Colorado don’t give money just based on how candidates stand on specific bills or issues; they also have a longstanding pattern of of seeking to elect Democratic majorities.

A group like CASE shares views with the unions on some issues but also has concerns about things like local control of schools, which affect its endorsements.

Some contributions and endorsements are as simple as a “courtesy” to influential lawmakers who are in the legislative leadership. All groups use voting records, questionnaire responses and other tools to help determine endorsements and contributions.

Those varying motivations make for a shifting pattern of endorsements and contributions, the “changing bedfellows” phenomenon that makes interest groups unite behind one candidate and puts them on opposite sides in another race.

Here’s a look at some of the patterns in this year’s endorsements and contributions. See the charts at the bottom of this article for a full list of who’s backing whom.

Bandwagon races

The only race where all five groups are backing the same candidate is in Colorado Springs’ Senate District 11, where Democratic Majority Leader John Morse is battling Republican former Air Force officer Owen Hill. This is a true swing district, with voter registration evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliateds.

Republicans see unseating Morse as a step toward Senate control, or at least slimming the Democrats’ majority. A total of nearly $200,000 has been raised by the two candidates.

Morse initially voted against Senate Bill 10-191, the teacher effectiveness law, but supported it on final consideration. While not a leading voice on K-12 issues, Morse was the sponsor of Senate Bill 10-003, the higher education tuition flexibility law.

In Senate District 20, which stretches from Golden on the west to Edgewater on the east, four of the five groups – all but CASE – have endorsed Democratic former state Rep. Cheri Jahn, who faces Republican small businessman John Odom. The district has more than 21,000 registered Democrats, nearly 18,000 Republicans and more than 19,000 unaffiliateds. More than $100,000 has been raised in this race, a bit over $90,000 by Jahn, and Odom has raised more than $60,000 in loans.

Differences of opinion

There are five races where at least some of the education groups are on different sides of the fence.

The House District 47 seat in Pueblo County is open because of term limits, and recently retired Pueblo Education Association President Carole Partin is trying to hold it for the Democrats.

She’s raised nearly $67,000, including contributions of $7,500 from CEA and an affiliate and $500 from AFT-Colorado. Construction executive Keith Swerdfeger has raised more than $81,000 and has been endorsed by Stand for Children. Democrats have a slight registration edge over Republicans, with a substantial number of unaffiliateds.

In the Four Corners region, current state Rep. Ellen Roberts, a Durango lawyer, is challenging appointed Senate District 6 incumbent Bruce Whitehead of Hesperus, a water engineer. This is another seat that Republicans hope to turn. The GOP has a modest registration edge. Both AFT and CEA have contributed to Whitehead and CASE has endorsed him, while Stand for Children has endorsed Roberts. Whitehead voted against SB 10-191; Roberts for it.

Democratic retired teacher Laura Huerta is challenging Republican incumbent Kevin Priola, a member of the House Education Committee, in Adams County’s House District 30. Democrats have a modest voter registration edge, but Priola is far ahead in fund raising. Both unions have contributed to Huerta, while CASE and Stand for Children have endorsed Priola, who voted for Senate Bill 10-191.

In House District 3, which includes south Denver and part of Arapahoe County, the CEA has contributed to appointed incumbent Democrat Daniel Kagan, who voted against SB 10-191. CASE has endorsed him, while Stand has endorsed Republican Christine Mastin, Democrats have the registration edge.

In Lakewood’s House District 22, Democratic lawyer Christine Radeff is challenging Republican incumbent Ken Summers, also an education committee member and SB 10-191 supporter. The CEA has contributed to Radeff, while CASE has endorsed Summers.

Reformers agree with unions

In addition to the Morse and Jahn races, Stand for Children and the two unions also are supporting Democratic lawyer Pete Lee in House District 18. He’s facing Republican small business owner Karen Cullen for the seat being vacated by House Education Committee Chair Mike Merrifield. The district is one of the few El Paso County districts where Democrats have a slight registration edge on Republicans.

And the three groups all back Democratic crime-victim advocate Rhonda Fields in Aurora’s House District 42, held by Democratic Rep. Karen Middleton until she resigned. The GOP hopeful is civic activist Sally Mounier in a district dominated by Democrats and unaffiliateds.

Stand for Children and AFT agree on six other candidates, Democratic House incumbents Jeanne Labuda in Denver District 1, Mark Ferrandino in Denver District 2, Beth McCann in Denver District 8, Joe Rice in Littleton District 38 and Christine Scanlan in District 56 in the central mountains. All supported Senate Bill 10-191 and Scanlan was a prime sponsor. Both organizations also support Democratic newcomer Angela Williams in northeast Denver’s House District 7. AFT-Colorado supported SB 10-191.

Endorsed only by Stand

  • Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, District 45, who is unopposed.
  • Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison, District 61, who is running as a write-in candidate.
  • Democratic Sens. Chris Romer and Mike Johnston, who have adjoining, safely Democratic districts, 32 and 33, in east Denver. Johnston was the author of SB 10-191.

Unions agree with each other

The CEA’s small-donor committee has given to 41 candidates, while the AFT group has contributed to 42. All are Democrats. Thirty-one candidates have received money from both. CEA has a much larger statewide membership and fund-raising ability, and it’s given $4,250 to some candidates. AFT’s largest contribution has been $1,000 in a few races.

CASE’s endorsements coincide with CEA and/or AFT contributions in 20 races.

Reformers fall short in primaries

Both Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform contributed to Mark Thrum in the House District 5 Democratic primary. Stand for Children gave $4,000, and DFER gave $1,000. Thrum lost to former United Food and Commercial Workers union official Crisanta Duran, who’s received contributions from CEA and AFT.

DFER also gave $500 to Democratic primary candidate Jake Williams in House District 12. He lost to Matt Jones, who’s received money from the two unions.

The only DFER general election contributions are to Morse and Jahn.

The Stand for Children small donor committee hasn’t yet made any general election contributions, but it reported $28,029 on hand as of the most recent reporting deadline, which was Sept. 20. DFER had $1,770 on hand as of that deadline. The next set of contribution and spending reports are due to the secretary of state on Oct. 4.

Support by House, Senate district

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Information about endorsements and contributions was compiled from campaign spending reports filed with the secretary of state and from information provided by some of the groups. Search financial reports on the state website.

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