Legislative Year: 2014 Change

Colorado Eyes & Ears »

The 2014 election produced some surprises that, when examining trends, probably shouldn’t be surprising at all.  Underneath the mass of mail and tv ads, below the paucity of effective messaging, four factors framed the 2014 election tale in Colorado: unaffiliated voter registration, mail-in ballots, campaign finance, and no-show Democratic men.

With Unaffiliateds as the largest and fastest growing “party” in the state, unaffiliated voters had a huge impact on the small numbers that separated wins and losses. In 2012, one Senate race and one House race were decided by less than 3% of voters.  In 2014, six Senate seats and six House seats were won and lost by less than 3%.

Dems took eye off Adams County, low turnout stomped incumbents

Voters expressed deep dissatisfaction with the status quo in Adams County. SD-24, a Democratic Senate seat, flipped Republican by 876 votes, or 1.7%.  Beth Martinez-Humenik’s victory over Rep. Judy Solano-D, along with two Republican victories in Jefferson County, turned the state Senate over.

Two shoe-in Adams County House seats were not shoe-ins.  Rep. Joseph Salazar-D, who won by a 20% landslide in 2012, eked out a 216 vote victory in HD-31.  Rep. Jenise May-D, who won her seat by 15% in 2012, lost by 110 votes, or .58%. 

Unaffiliated voters breaking in right and left directions in races across state

In the Adams County races, Unaffiliated voters switched to the Republican side in large numbers, powering the two victories and the near-victory.  Voter turnout was low, 50.94%, compared to 64.17% in neighboring Broomfield County, for example.

In the other direction, Unaffiliateds in SD-59 almost pushed Rep. Mike McLachlan-D across the line he finished in 2012.  McLachlan lost by 206 votes, or .6%.  He almost overcame a 6% registration disadvantage, but Rep. Paul Brown regained the seat he lost in 2012.

Meanwhile, Kerry Donovan-D, who had a 4% registration deficit in SD-5 to her opponent Don Suppes-R, won when 40% of unaffiliated voters up in the mountains broke in her direction.  She also won despite low voter turnout in two core Democratic counties: Summit at 45.48% and Pitkin at 50.84%.

Mail-in ballots favored GOP, pushing Dem get-out-the-vote in too many places

Republicans complained about changes to election law that called for an all mail-in ballot.  Don’t know why.  The Republican mail-ins poured into County Clerk offices, overwhelming Democrats.  Last minute scrambling helped the Andy Kerr and Cheri Jahn campaigns in Jeffco, but mail-in was a big benefit to Tim Neville, Laura Woods, and Martinez-Humenik, all Republicans.

GOP money strategy may tie newly elected legs tight to party line

Republicans played their money hand smartly.  Ryan Call, chair of the state Republican party, chafed over the party’s losses in 2012.  This year, he played a semi-stealth campaign finance game that got GOP candidates with practically no easily-identified money across the goal line. 

Republicans established a party Super PAC that allowed them to raise money without identifying donors.  Call knew the big numbers Democrats could put up from elections in 2010 and 2012.  So while Democratic candidates scrambled to raise millions from thousands of people, the Republican party gathered funds for its candidates from unidentified donors.  Senate President Bill Cadman, R-CO Spgs, can take credit for spending his big dollars strategically. 

Rep. Solano-D in Adams County raised $146,000 to victorious Martinez-Humenik’s-R $23,000.  Cadman’s investment put Martinez-Humenik over the top, even if it wasn’t a landslide.

In Jefferson County, Democrats knocked themselves out raising money:  Sen. Andy Kerr-D at $210,000 to Tony Sanchez’s-R $86,000; Sen. Cheri Jahn at $178,000 to Larry Queen’s $33,000; Sen. Jeanne Nicholson-D at $241,000 to Tim Neville’s –R $130,000;  and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger-D at $239,000 to Woods’-R $116,000.  Only Kerr and Jahn won, Kerr by 2% and Jahn by an itty bitty .58%.

Dems got women to vote, but men didn't come to the dance

Democratic men did not come to this election party.  With 1,749,568 votes in at 5pm election night, Democratic women were at 332,815 votes v Democratic men at 226,002, a 106,813 difference.  Both unaffiliated men and Republican men voted at a higher rate than women by about 20,000 total ballots.  The difference between Democratic and Republican women was 5628 out of 670,861, or .0083%. 

Both parties have long term registration problems as younger voters take independent stand

Long term implications of this election are evident.  The parties are losing and gaining influence at the same time.  That is, both Democrats and Republicans are losing registration to unaffiliateds, with the GOP losing at a higher rate. 

But with Republicans starting to take over candidate campaign funding, those winning candidates will owe a lot to the party.  So if unaffiliateds want the parties to work more closely, but candidates are more tightly hooked to the parties, the forces are working in opposite directions.

Republicans benefited from mail-in ballots, at least in this mid term.  They sent Democrats scrambling in many different directions to get enough votes in, but with Democratic men sitting on their stamps, that GOTV effort became grueling.  The pressure caused the Dems to focus on their Jeffco Senate candidates, pushing turnout to 62% while missing Adams County with turnout at 51%.

Democrats will have a tough time if they can’t talk more firmly and persuasively to Democratic men, which begs the question as to whether Dems have a message for Democratic men.  With so much focus on women’s reproductive rights, and so little attention on jobs, the guys took a pass.  If both parties don’t pay attention to making themselves more relevant to more voters, the whole system can implode.  The numbers are doing the talking on that trend.

September 13 changed the paths of the South Platte River and the creeks along the northern front of the Rockies that feed the river. Now the state wants to know if the epic flood finally knocked out non native salt cedar, or tamarisk, and Russian olive trees that have been out-competing native cotton woods along the river and creek beds.
These non native, weedy trees are water suckers. They grow in dense stands and their roots go deep down, taking up water from the water table that otherwise could go to agriculture and municipal uses.
Weed managers, weed scientists from CSU, and state ag researchers want to know how the South Platte flood affected dispersion of these shrubby, stringy, dusty plants in the flood zone. 
The researchers hope the flood wiped out the invasive plants, but they worry that the tree weeds, aka phreatophytes which thrive in dry climates along creeks and rivers, will further drive out native cotton woods and other benign vegetation.
For about $150,000, CSU, with funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will find out whether the state will have to use more tamarisk beetles and/or herbicides to get rid of the pests. Based on over 40 years of weed work by the US Bureau of Reclamation, bets go to the salt cedar.  
The Platte River Phreatophyte Study, SB14-195 with bipartisan Senate sponsorship, passed Senate Local Government on a 6-1 vote, with Sen. Gail Schwartz from Aspen voting NO. 
HB14-1009 takes on fire mitigation
Fires raging last year across the front range prompted the Wildfire Matters Review Committee to recommend giving property owners a tax credit rather than a tax deduction for fire mitigation.
The change ups the ante to encourage property owners to get serious about clearing brush, changing roofing materials, and swapping wood decks for composite materials.  
Property owners submitted $1.2 million in fire mitigation tax deductions in 2012, according to the Department of Revenue, representing a little more than $800 per return, on average.  The credit ratchets up the tax break to a maximum credit of $2500 per year, with five years of carry-over.
According to testimony, new developments will face stricter zoning rules on roofs, decks, vents, and spaces between forests and homes. Development growth may go up by 300 percent over 15 years.  
Rivers moving, fires burning, tamarisk growing, Russian olives spreading.  That's the new Colorado.  
The Title Setting Board took two days last week to translate "lawyer" into English so the public can make "reasoned decisions" about what to add to the state's constitution or statutes. 

Some issues reflect the peculiarities of Colorado.  Eight issues relate to oil and gas well setbacks of various distances.  Proponents will  collect signatures on the distance they think will most likely win, seeking the farthest possible point at which voters will think "that's still too close to my house."
The Independence Institute jumped into the current school board wars with its open negotiations over collective bargaining agreements, and animal protectors weighed in with no docking dairy cow tails or euthanizing pets in shelters. 
Some initiatives reflect an individual's commitment, such as prohibitions against artificial fluoride in water systems (re: Dr. Strangelove) or starting up a state-owned bank. 
Not all arguments are made by lawyers.  Jon Caldera of the Independence Institute urged the Board to reduce the legalese in his collective bargaining initiative. The title went from over a 100 words to 42.  
Both sides of an issue present their reasoning for particular wording.  The initiative's content must be contained within the title (single subject), and words may not be loaded to appeal to emotions rather than reason. This approach creates discussions about semantics and grammar.

As an example, the oil and gas well amendment titles were not allowed to contain the phrase, "including those using hydraulic fracturing."  The industry argued that the term "hydraulic fracturing" had taken on a negative connotation and thus pushed the tone of the initiative to favor proponents. The Title Board ultimately agreed with opponents and settled on "oil and gas well" as the least charged description. 

The local control of oil and gas development initiative stimulated a 45 minute discussion over the meaning of the word "limit." Proponents argued that "limit" was the exact definition of the types of actions local governments could take related to fracking.  Opponents wanted to ensure that the public would know that "limit" could allow localities to go as far as the prohibition of drilling. The Title Board selected "restrict or prohibit" as the final language.

At times it seemed the attorneys and board members were solving quadratic equations as they worked through punctuation, word choice, and sentence structure.  The Board slowly moved 48 initiatives to the next stage - getting signatures. 

Not every initiative will go to the signature gathering stage, and not every initiative will receive enough signatures.  But it looks right now like a long ballot in 2014, with citizens deciding everything from "what's a fee" to public trust over the environment to the distance between a casino and a school.  The volume may not be typical for the state, but the variety certainly is.  PEN, CCW

In the long story short tradition, the majority party has more fun.  So far, 568 bills are, or have been, in the hopper.  The Governor has signed 129 bills.  The two chambers have PIed 133 bills. 

Of the 133 PIed bills, 84 had only GOP sponsors.  Of the 129 signed bills, 47 had only Dem sponsors.  The Governor has vetoed two bills, both with only Democratic sponsors (ouch!).

It's fair to say that the GOP has thrown up many of its most controversial bills, especially in an election year, so lots of its PIed bills are highly political. 

One can also say that Dems have been reasonably fair to Republicans in the signed bill category, as 82 of 129 bills have either mixed sponsorship or all Republican sponsors. 

That bit of the story may not make it to the highly contested races to confront the state this summer and fall. With 300 bills left to move through in 18 DAYS, it's bound to be lively, contentious, and grumpy.  More as bills progress...  

“Suck it up, soccer moms.”  This artful advice, based on comments from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was splashed last month across the home page of the education reform non profit, America Succeeds

America Succeeds was organized by Wall Street investment bankers.  It has two prominent Coloradans on its five member board:  State Senator Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and Donnell Kay Foundation Executive Director Tony Lewis.

Sen. Johnston recently added to America Succeeds’ snicker, calling some citizens objecting to his policies of relentless standardized testing and student data collection, “Cherry Creek cheerleaders.”

Johnston and allies lead state education "reform" 

Johnston has allied himself with a gaggle of Big Ed Reformers:  Colorado Legacy Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Donnell Kay Foundation, Colorado Succeeds, Democrats for Education Reform, Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools, Pearson Company, Microsoft, Google, Michael Bloomberg, and wealthy New York hedge fund managers. 

Ruppert Murdoch, the Australian media mogul of British phone hacking fame, has joined his fellow education reform supporters, cashing in with his Amplify product, aligned perfectly to common core reform instruction. Every child's key strokes are collected and stored for posterity and data mining. 

These rich “reformers,” billionaires and foundations supported by billionaires, reflect the essence of the grassroots cheerleaders’ fears. Big Government, Big Foundations, and Big Corporations are using the Big Data Technology revolution to repeat the old VietNam war stratagem: We will blow up your schools in order to save your schools.

Grassroots “cheerleaders,” short on Monied Underwriters, nevertheless showed up at the Capitol to lobby two Johnston bills, including  SB14-165, giving districts a one-year break on using growth data in teacher evaluations (amend), and the ironically named Student Success Act, HB14-1292 (amend), a $100 million diversion of school funds for various Johnston programs defeated in the Amendment 66 debacle.

The cheerleaders even had the temerity to try to protect student data from the shark jaws of Big Business, HB14-1294 (see Murdoch, MIcrosoft, Google above).  They worked to allow parents to opt their kids out of the tests, HB14-1202, a bill now narrowed to assess assessments, their costs and impacts on kids, teachers, schools, and districts.

Tony Lewis at Donnell Kay will remake public education 

Unlike the cheerleaders, Tony Lewis, the America Succeeds board member and FOJ, has the Senator's support to "reschool" education for all of Colorado using digital advances and online distance learning as the solution to closing various achievement gaps.  Colleen Broderick will lead this reform.  She says, "Technology doesn't have to completely replace all components of today's current learning system; in fact, the element of engaging with people and community face to face is equally essential."  Good to know.

Pearson profits from PARRC, the coming 2015 trainwreck    

Pearson Company, the PARRC exam experimenter, received $185 million of Race to the Top money to build the tests. It's also partnering with Microsoft so kids can take advantage of Windows 8 touch screen technology to use curriculum, produced by Pearson, that's perfectly aligned with Common Core.  

In a recent Education Committee hearing, Johnston rejected any prospect of reassessing the state's future testing program. Rather than take a pause based on the Pearson test results in New York identifying 66% of that state's children as not proficient in anything, Johnston insists that the state must move forward.  President Dwight Eisenhower would recognize this scenario:  the standardized testing industrial complex.

Pearson will gain more profits through its cleverly named partner enterprise, Knewton.  Knewton feeds kids Common Core-branded digital worksheets based specifically on a student's learning style. The goal is to help students do well on the PARRC exams, which may ultimately be used to replace ACT and SAT for college admission. 

But many colleges are moving away from the test requirement. Over 800 colleges now offer no-test admissions, according to an NPR story, and have found that a student's grades are the best predictor of student success in college.

Legacy Foundation goes back to '70s for classroom model 

The Colorado Legacy Foundation, an amply funded non profit enabling Johnston's vision through its 41 employees, has received $22 million from the Gates Foundation, at last count. Legacy is running its own experiments in Big Data, promoting a non profit called New Classrooms

School of One, a New Classrooms' "innovation" that looks a lot like the old open classrooms of the '70s, helps teachers provide "personalized education" from "multiple modalities of instruction." According to the New Classrooms design, over 100 kids will sit quietly and dutifully working either in teams, in a long line at computer terminals, or receiving lectures from two teachers with support from two other cheaper-to-employ adults.

Like every other Big Ed reform entity, New Classrooms has Very Big Technology and Investment Capital Money behind it, including the Bezos Family Foundation, New Profit Inc., Salmon River Capital, the Broad Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation.

Parents worried about the overwhelming import of data driven, digitally based instruction are told by Legacy to calm down and get rid of their “heebie jeebies.” Teachers should also stop “wigging out” over these initiatives, according to an elected official close to both the Legacy Foundation and the Colorado Department of Education.

Johnston: Don Quixote or Ahab?  

Johnston, along with his benefactors and staff of four when every other legislator has one part-timer, has taken Colorado students, parents, and educators on a very long ride of teacher performance evaluation, school assessment, and student testing. Time, money, and human resources, all at the expense of other education priorities, have been sunk into the reform vision.

But it hasn't worked out the way Johnston and his fellow visionaries want. Colorado's achievement results, after 13 years of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, haven't budged in any significant way, according to standardized tests.

Johnston's initiatives have failed to produce replicable education programs helpful to all kids in neighborhood schools, comprehensive middle and high schools, charter schools, and especially the online distance schools.  He is known for his  Teach for America speech on "hard truths."  These particular hard truths are apparently hard for him to swallow.

Little attention to parents' schools of choice: neighborhood schools 

In fact, Johnston's and the Foundations' vision doesn't include much for neighborhood and community schools, the most frequent choice schools for parents and the backbone of Colorado's education structure. His policies have pressured rural schools, leaving them underfunded.  His  SB13-213 financially punished suburban schools to such a degree, and pushed such a massive state overreach into the affairs of local districts, that it was rejected 2:1 by Colorado voters.

His latest foray into Big Money partnerships is the recently introduced SB14-185, the Pay for Success School and Community Performance Contract bill. The idea of the bill is to give contractors the opportunity to save government entities future money through early childhood education programs. 

The Office of State Planning and Budgeting has to figure out the amount of money contractors have saved governments, one presumes, based on analysis of preschool student outcomes. If a contractor produces kids who don't go to prison, one way the program is used in Britain, the contractor could make some real Big Money. If the bill passes, the state will dump $25 million into a pay for success fund. Who can't get behind this idea?

Parents want fewer tests, more instruction 

Despite Sen. Johnston's diss of Colorado citizens, parents resisting the reformer's vision are not afraid of assessment and accountability.  A reasonable testing system based on reliable, not experimental, tests is what they want.  They are not afraid of data. They are concerned about unsecured, misused, and inappropriate data collection.

In Johnston's world, asking local districts and parents what will work for their schools is not what he's about (see bills above).  Just look at who's for and against  HB14-1292, the Student Success Act, to see how school districts are now reacting to reform initiatives (go to the lobbyists link)

Education reform that delegates teaching to technology will fail. Education reform that isolates students in a digital cocoon will fail.  Education initiatives that connect students and teachers and schools and communities and puts the human back into learning and the person back into personalized will ultimately make the most difference.  PEN,CCW

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