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Flores wins State Board primary; Neal looks safe

Updated July 25, Noon – Val Flores, a retired educator backed by teachers unions, won a convincing victory Tuesday night in the Democratic primary for the 1st District seat on the State Board of Education.

In the 3rd District, Republican incumbent Marcia Neal had 51.7 percent of vote with most returns reported at midday Wednesday.

Taggart Hansen, a lawyer backed by education reform groups, got only 41 percent of the vote in nearly complete returns. He conceded shortly after 9 p.m., saying, “While we did not win tonight, we brought a focus to some of the challenges and critical issues facing our public school systems. I want to congratulate Dr. Val Flores on her victory.”

Flores sounded a bit stunned at her victory, saying, “I think the people won tonight. This is a great win for our children and our public schools.”

Her campaign manager, Dave Sabados, said, “I think Val’s message of good neighborhood schools resonated with voters. I don’t think Democratic voters want the Democrats for Education Reform agenda.”

Neal faced Barbara Ann Smith for the Republican nomination in the sprawling 3rd District. Neal ran ahead in the district’s more populous counties, including Eagle, Gunnison, La Plata, Mesa, Montrose and Pitkin, while Smith won well more than a dozen small counties, plus Pueblo, which is on the district’s far eastern end.

At noon Wednesday vote counts were still incomplete in Custer, Gunnison and Montezuma counties, and tiny Hinsdale County in the San Juan Mountains still hadn’t reported, according to the Department of State.

Late Tuesday evening Neal said, “I’m pretty confident. I would be very much surprised if it changed.”

Primaries for seats on the unpaid SBE are rare – the last one was in 2002.

Neal initially decided not to seek a second term but got back in the race because of concerns about Democrats winning the seat if she didn’t run. Smith decided to stay in the race. Both candidates are retired Grand Junction schoolteachers and both oppose the Common Core Standards, although Smith is more adamant on the issue.

The 1st District race was a reprise of recent Denver school board contests that pitted candidates backed by education reform interest groups against union-backed hopefuls. Hansen was backed by Stand for Children, while Flores was supported by the Colorado Education Association and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

The 1st District is centered on Denver but includes a slice of Arapahoe County. Flores ran strong in the city, running strongly in most west side precincts and also winning many east side precincts. (See this Denver Election Division map of how the voting went.) Taggart heavily outspent Flores.

In the 3rd District the GOP candidate will face Democrat Henry Roman, former superintendent of the Pueblo City schools. The winner in the 1st District primary is expected to take the seat next January, as there is no Republican candidate.

Neal has been an occasional swing vote on the board, siding with the three Democrats on a handful of issues. But she voted no in 2010 when the board voted 4-3 to adopt the Common Core Standards, “I think it’s very important that we keep the Republican majority” on the board, she said.

Smith has been involved in local Republican politics and is all for local control and against the Common Core. On standards, she said, “We can do our own,” adding, “I’m not in favor of the PARCC testing.” She said she opposes teacher tenure but that teachers need to be paid more.

Flores is a critic of what she calls the corporatization of public education, writing on her website, “ I oppose a ‘reform’ model that is slowly privatizing our public education system.”

Hansen’s campaign stressed equal opportunities for all students and setting high expectations. Hansen, a lawyer, said his two years with Teach for America had an important effect on him and his views on education.

Get more details on the candidates, their fundraising and the SBE in this earlier story.

Other races of interest to education

Hard-fought Republican primaries in two Jefferson County Senate districts have implications for two Democratic senators with strong education ties, Rachel Zenzinger and Andy Kerr.

  • District 19 – Laura Woods, backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, defeated the more moderate Lang Sias to face Zenzinger.
  • District 22 -, Tony Sanchez, the more conservative of the two Republicans, beat Mario Nicolais to oppose Kerr.

Victories by the conservatives are considered a possible boost for Zenzinger and Kerr, as voters generally are more moderate in general election races.

Primary races in three House districts drew endorsements from Stand for Children.

  • District 2 – In this central Denver Democratic race, Stand backed winner Alec Garrett over Owen Perkins.
  • District 22 – Incumbent GOP Rep. Justin Everett, a member of the House Education Committee, easily beat challenger Loren Bauman, endorsed by Stand.
  • District 37 – This Republican race in the southern suburbs pitted teacher Michael Fields, backed by Stand, against winner Jack Tate, who had a comfortable margin of victory.

Get background on these races in this story.