Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Many issues are currently considered controversial hot topics in our community right now. Fracking, recreational marijuana and health care are all bound to get a heated conversation going in any city in Colorado.

But if you live in Douglas County, as I do, the topic that leads the list is the Douglas County School Board races.

Friends and neighbors are finding more division over four school board seats than they ever did over any other political issue.

There are a few reasons why that is and also why these races will set a major political precedent in Colorado.

A key reason why these races are so divisive are because they are over reform. That alone can fire up almost any school board race. But this kind of reform goes much further.

Douglas County became the first school board in Colorado to institute a voucher program, which is currently caught up in litigation. They also adopted a different pay system for teachers, considering evaluations and a market based structure.

To put it simply, the current Douglas County School Board has not been afraid to adopt serious reforms, even with the status of one of Colorado’s higher performing school districts. But this is the reason that is making all of the headlines and is the easiest to define.

But another key reason that the races have become divisive is due to the fact that the Colorado Republican Party has become directly involved in a normally non-partisan election. This is fairly unchartered territory for political parties because many counties keep the races non-partisan.

But because the races in DougCo have revolved around support from teachers unions, the state’s GOP Party wanted to get off the sidelines and become involved, supporting the candidates who support the current reforms.

The races will set a precedent because these races will occur in an overwhelmingly Republican county. It’s not like there is a distinct opportunity for the Republican Party to make new friends in DougCo. Frankly, there is considerable risk involved since many of those who will inevitably side with the non-reformers will be Republican voters.

But perhaps, the Colorado Republican Party saw a greater risk in seeing candidates supported by teachers unions defeat what many Republicans outside of DougCo see as very popular reforms that they would like to see implemented elsewhere. If the reformers lose here, they will have an even tougher chance making progress elsewhere.

Only the Colorado Republican Party knows the real risk. But what is known is that the move is not going unnoticed and will indeed set a precedent. One way or the other, it will be a glaring example of what happens when a political party gets involved in a school board election.

As with any political maneuver, if it is successful, you can certainly look to see the strategy repeated. If it fails, 2014 may bear some difficult fruit for the GOP in Colorado.

Either way, it is certainly helping the school board races in Douglas County make national headlines, and political precedents in Colorado.

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About The Blogger

– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.


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