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Education-related races to follow in the primary election

People who follow education issues have several races to track Tuesday night when the Colorado primary election returns roll in.

The two contests of most direct interest are the primaries for State Board of Education seats, the Democratic fight between Valentina Flores and Taggart Hansen in the 1st District and the Republican tilt between Marcia Neal and Barbara Ann Smith in the 3rd. (See our detailed story on those races here.)

There also are education connections in three Jefferson County Republican legislative primaries.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger are awaiting the results of two bitter Republican primaries that seem focused on which candidates are stronger advocates of gun rights. Kerr, a veteran teacher, is chair of the Senate Education Committee. Zenzinger serves on Senate Education and was appointed to her seat late last year after longtime education figure Sen. Evie Hudak resigned to avoid a recall election over her support of gun-control bills.

In Kerr’s District 22 candidates Mario Nicolais and Tony Sanchez are battling for the GOP nomination. Sanchez, who came to Colorado from California a few years ago, is backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the most hardline of the state’s gun-rights groups. Nicolais has irked some Republicans with his support of civil unions and has criticized Sanchez for being a newcomer to the state.

Sanchez has raised $39,130 while Nicolais’ fundraising totals $21,714. Kerr is way ahead of both, having raised $83,340.

As a newcomer, Zenzinger is considered more vulnerable in District 19. On the GOP side, Lang Sias, a former fighter pilot, almost beat Hudak four years ago; Laura Woods has the endorsement of RMGO.

Woods has raised $43,578 and Sias $45,530, while contributions to Zenzinger’s campaign already total $54,568.

The general election races are expected to be close, as both districts are evenly balanced among Democratic, Republican unaffiliated voters.

The races could determine control of the Senate in 2015. Democrats now hold an 18-17 majority after losing two seats in gun-related recall elections last year. And a loss by either Kerr or Zenzinger could noticeably change the makeup of Senate Education.

In southern Jeffco’s heavily Republican House District 22, Rep. Justin Everett is being challenged in the GOP primary by businessman Loren Bauman, whom Everett beat handily in 2012’s Republican primary.

Everett has been a distinctly low-profile member of the House Education Committee who tends to vote no on a lot of bills. Bauman has criticized Everett for his negative voting record and for some attendance problems during the 2014 session (background here).

(Get more background on the battle for Jefferson County is this article from the Colorado Independent and in this Denver Post story.)

Bauman has been endorsed by Stand for Children, the education reform advocacy group that also has endorsed candidates in two other primaries.

In the Democratic race for House District 2, Stand has endorsed Alec Garnett, former executive director of the state Democratic Party and son of Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett. The other candidate in the race is Owen Perkins, a writer and longtime Democratic activist. They are battling to succeed House Speaker Mark Ferrandino in the heavily Democratic central Denver district.

In House District 37, which covers several southeast suburbs, Stand has endorsed Republican Michael Fields, an Aurora charter school teacher and a former GOP statehouse staffer. He’s opposed by Jack Tate, who previously ran an unsuccessful race for the Centennial City Council.

The Colorado Education Association hasn’t endorsed candidates in any legislative primaries.

Other primary notes

It’s a big year for Republican primaries, with four candidates vying to run for governor against Democrat John Hickenlooper.

None of the four – former congressman Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former congressman Tom Tancredo – have much of a track record on education. All have said they oppose the Common Core Standards.

In the 4th Congressional District, term-limited Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley, who’s been the senior Republican on Senate Education, is one of four candidates seeking the seat.

The only other statewide elected education body is the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Three seats are up for election this year, but there are no primaries. School board elections are held in odd-numbered years, but several districts around the state are expected to propose bond issues or tax overrides to their voters in November.

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