Republicans interview school candidates

Local party continues strategy used in 2009, 2011 elections

Craig Steiner is the newly elected chair of the Douglas County Republicans.
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The leader of the Douglas County Republicans said the party’s involvement in school board elections helps ensure Republican principles are upheld locally.

Colorado state statutes prohibit a school board candidate from running “as a candidate of any political party,” but that doesn’t prevent the local Republicans from endorsing board candidates — a practice they began in 2009 and are continuing with the November 2013 election.

Through early August, members of a Douglas County Republicans’ interview committee will meet with board candidates who want the party’s endorsement — regardless of the candidate’s political affiliation. The executive committee will vote on endorsements for the four open seats in mid-August. Their choices will be based on those candidates “most likely to support the principles of the Republican Party,” local party chairman Craig Steiner said.

The Douglas County Republicans endorsed the seven current board members in the 2009 and 2011 elections.

Steiner said the endorsements are critical because a school board candidate’s party affiliation is not indicated on a ballot. That was problematic in traditionally conservative Douglas County.

“We could have 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and there’s no indication of their party affiliation,” Steiner said during a July 26 breakfast in Castle Rock. “That makes it very hard for voters to know who to vote for. In Douglas County, when the voters know, Republicans pull anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the vote. It’s clear that being a Republican and being supported by the Republican Party is something voters value.”

Involvement in school board elections also is part of a broader Republican strategy.

“This is where it starts — at the local level,” Steiner said. “We can complain about what’s going on in Washington, but our sphere of influence is Douglas County. As long as all of our county parties are doing these things, we’re going to start seeing good results at the grassroots county level and going up from there.”

Conversely, the Douglas County Democrats have no strategy for the school board election.

“We don’t take the same approach because it’s nonpartisan,” chairman Mike Jones said. “We believe in public education. If people ask us, we tell them to vote for those who support public education. But there’s no big strategy.”

Colorado Association of School Boards deputy executive director Jane Urschel said in an August 2012 interview that the association views service on a school board as “the highest level of service,” one that historically rose above party politics.

“Those who were elected would focus on what constitutes the best education of the children of those communities, and they would not be torn by politics or having to vote the way a party wants them to,” she said.

Steiner sees no conflict between political party affiliation and the ability to objectively serve the needs of DCSD’s students.

“The position of the Republican Party is that we have principles that apply equally to education, and we believe our principles are in the best interest of the child.

“Whether it’s a group of people that call themselves Republican, Democrats or teachers unions, we’re all just members of the community with different views of the best ways to help the students. We all hope we’re doing this for the right reasons.”

At least one candidate, Republican Kevin Leung, rejected the opportunity for an interview with the Douglas County Republicans.

“I will not solicit or accept any endorsement from a political party or organized labor because I believe it is unethical to do so,” Leung said. “I am running to represent the people of Douglas County, not special interest groups in this nonpartisan election.”

Leung ran unsuccessfully for a seat in 2009 and is among several plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the Douglas County School District’s voucher program.

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