Apparently confident of victory in Douglas County, Republican Party officials there want to lend a hand to GOP-backed school board candidates in Jefferson County as Election Day draws closer.
Dougco Republican Party chairman Mark Baisley sent an email Thursday notifying party volunteers that they’ll be calling on behalf of Jefferson County school board candidates Preston Branaugh and Jim Powers until Tuesday.
“Thank you for all of the phone calls that you have been making to get the vote out. The returns reported by the Douglas County Clerks office show that we are well ahead,” he wrote.
“We are shifting our focus to help our Republican friends in Jefferson County with their races. If you sign in to the website to make more calls, please note the change in the script, as we will be calling Jefferson County residents from now until November 1. Thanks!”
A copy of the email was forwarded to Education News Colorado and others. Jeffco school board candidates Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, Branaugh and Powers’ opponents, cited it Friday on their Facebook pages.
“I don’t understand why my opponent wants Jefferson County to be like Douglas County,” Dahlkemper said. “I don’t understand why my opponent needs to go outside of Jefferson County for help.”
Powers, who is opposing Dahlkemper for the District 4 seat representing central Jeffco, responded to a request for comment on the email with a statement: “My position on vouchers is unchanged. I am not running for the Jeffco school board to implement vouchers.”
Douglas County has frequently cropped up in the campaigns to lead the state’s largest school district.
In 2009, Dougco’s Republican Party actively endorsed a four-member slate of conservatives in the non-partisan board races. The slate was elected and, 18 months later, the Dougco school board unanimously approved the state’s first district-run voucher pilot.
So when Jeffco’s Republican Party decided this year to actively promote conservative school board candidates Branaugh and Powers, also known as “the dads,” the two were repeatedly questioned about their positions on vouchers.
Their responses, particularly in early candidate forums, were not definitive. In one forum attended by EdNews, the men said the issue was unlikely to come up during their four-year terms on the board – since the Dougco voucher plan is in limbo pending appeals – so it was a moot point.
Both Dahlkemper and Fellman have consistently said they oppose vouchers.
Dahlkemper accuses her opponent, Powers, of “flip-flopping” on the issue, saying at one forum that vouchers should be “on the table” and at another that he was neither for nor against them. In a later forum attended by EdNews, Powers said, “I have no reason to push a voucher system.”
Branaugh on Friday said he was not aware of Baisley’s email to Dougco GOP volunteers to help Jeffco school board candidates. When he was forwarded a copy, he wrote that it was “interesting” and added, “I do not support sending public dollars to private schools.”
Fellman, who is vying with Branaugh for the District 3 seat representing central and northeast Jeffco, said it’s “really kind of sad that our opponents are reaching out to Douglas County to get people to call into Jefferson County.”
Baisley, who acknowledged sending the email, said he had offered help to Jeffco earlier in the year and that the candidates’ campaigns had recently requested he follow through.
“We would like to see parents better represented by their elected officials,” he said, saying the current Dougco school board reflects the sentiments of county voters “like never before.”
“There’s a lot of folks throughout the state who call us the envy of Colorado when it comes to school board representation and where we can help out our neighbors, yeah, we will do so.”
Baisley said there’s nothing “earth-shattering” about party volunteers in one place lending aid to another, noting those in 49 states are now calling Iowa on behalf of their presidential picks.
Nor does he see is as providing an unfair advantage, noting teachers’ union have long been involved in school board campaigns and helping select those who later negotiate their contracts.
“Is that not a conflict of interest?” he said. “That’s the kind of ‘fairness’ we’ve been up against as citizens for generations and the Republican Party in Colorado has just caught on to that.”
Don Ytterberg, Jeffco’s GOP chair, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Republican Party’s involvement in non-partisan school board races in Douglas and Jefferson counties has been the subject of media reports, such as this piece from 9News.
Earlier this week, Douglas County school board candidate Susan Meek filed a complaint over mailers which depict an “official Republican ballot” and list the GOP-backed candidates.
The Secretary of State’s Office found no violation. One Dougco candidate, incumbent board member Justin Williams, declared on his Facebook page that it’s his First Amendment right to announce his affiliation.
“This is yet another example of partisan politics in nonpartisan school board races,” Meek said. “It is unfortunate the Secretary of State has chosen to cast a blind eye on the political maneuverings that have taken over these races.
“Candidates are required to sign a affidavit indicating the race as nonpartisan — clearly, this is not the case. Our children and communities deserve better than the political games politicians play.”
- Check the EdNews Election Center for more information on school board candidates in Douglas and Jefferson counties.