I just thought I’d share a few observations about this past election. Of course, everyone knows by now that the board elections were swept by the pro-corporate reform candidates, which now brings the count to 6-1 in favor of such free market-based philosophy for public education.
It is what it is.
One can’t really look at this outcome and declare a mandate for the free-market side without also taking the Amendment 66 implosion into consideration, though.
The truth is that Denver voters now have a very jaundiced view of the way the district is run. The four years of bashing the pro-community side of the board, the former minority 3 out of the 7, have taken their toll on the confidence the public feels about Denver schools. The media blitz against former member Jeannie Kaplan, Director Arturo Jimenez and myself really has backfired; there was so much negative attention paid to us by the establishment that it began to splash back. We three have been able to provide enough information to the public to help them decide critically about the management of the district, and this was revealed in the vote turnout for Amendment 66.
Denver voters have always supported education initiatives on the ballot, including every bond and mill levy presented to voters. Last year, voters supported the bond and mill levy by 69% to 31% and by 64% to 36%, respectively. Yet, this year, the support for Amendment 66 was only 53% to 47% in Denver county. Granted, 2012 was a presidential election year, and some 166,000 more votes were cast in 2012 than this year. The 2008 school bond passed 68% to 32%, also in a presidential election year. Given that trend, Amendment 66 should have had the same margin of passage, but it didn’t, and the lackluster performance in Denver did in fact impact the statewide returns.
Remember that schoolyard rhyme about rubber and glue? Negative press bounces off us and sticks on you, the free market establishment.
Keeping in mind this rebuff of DPS management is helpful in analyzing the results of the individual school board races. The “undervote” (or the number of voters who chose not to vote at all on a particular question on the ballot) is important here. These races were won by the free market reform candidates because the pro-community candidates (for the most part) didn’t show up to the race.
In the at-large race, Barbara O’Brien won 59% to Michael Kiley’s 31%. What’s interesting here is to compare the undervote percentage. Some 107,000 people cast a vote in this citywide race, as opposed to 138,317 total votes cast for Amendment 66. In other words, more than 31,000 people cared enough about education to vote on the funding measure but not enough to cast a vote for the school board director representing the entire city. This is not exactly a mandate for free market-based reforms, when nearly one quarter of all voters chose to ignore that portion of the ballot.
Even more dismal was the fact that more people ignored the at-large question on that ballot than actually voted for Michael Kiley: he received 33,440 votes, and the undervote for the at-large race was 33,863. To me, this screams that people clearly cared enough about education to vote on Amendment 66, but the Kiley campaign never reached them to present a compelling reason why they should have voted for him.
At the end of the day, you have to actually knock on doors. Your message must be compelling enough to motivate voters to take a chance on you.
In Kiley’s defense, his prime support base was too busy trying to save Amendment 66. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) was presenting a “split the baby” scenario for teachers by dividing their time between the sinking ship of Amendment 66 and trying to gain a seat on the board. Given the millions in campaign fundraising that came in for Amendment 66, a more sophisticated political decision making body at DCTA might have declined to go all in on 66, opting instead to put what ground troops were available to support the candidates that might presumably support the interest of teachers. But DCTA president, Henry Roman, decided otherwise, and as a result, not only did Denver not support 66 enough to carry the state, but none of the “union” candidates had a fighting chance.
Is this loss on Henry Roman’s hands alone? Not quite. At least in southwest Denver, I received at least a half dozen mailers for Rosemary Rodriguez, as well as a couple of robo-calls and even a person canvassing my home. Rosario C de Baca? Crickets. Almost no signs (save the desperate ones seen along the roadway the week of the election), no calls, no door knocks. There is little wonder that she lost 38% to 62%.
He or she who knocks on the most doors, wins. Or, he who has the most touches, absent any presence by one’s opposition, takes it all. You have to actually show up to your campaign, people.
At any rate, there are a couple of things made clear now. The first is that pro-community groups need to stop looking at the Denver teacher’s union as an ally. They are too politically naive and too afraid of the shadow of free market reformers to actually be a force for progressive change in Denver’s public education system. Fewer and fewer Denver teachers actually live in Denver; southwest Denver, however, has a lot of teachers working and living here, and the former DCTA president lives in West Denver. Henry Roman lives in Thornton. I’m recalling a recent conversation with a Denver teacher who, when I asked why she doesn’t live in Denver, remarked that Denver working-class neighborhoods are beneath her. Great.
When you live in Denver, pay taxes in Denver and have a family in Denver, who oversees your family’s schools matters greatly. Just like we bristle when “reformies” who would never condescend to send their children to DPS donate to free market reform DPS candidates anyway, we should also be suspect of support from anyone without a real, demonstrated commitment to our Denver community, union or otherwise.
Second, it will be nigh on impossible for any pro-community candidate to win a seat by starting their campaign late. Therefore, movement building needs to start early, and we need to embrace the concept of the long game. The fewer dollars and volunteers a campaign has accumulated, the earlier they have to start working. Myself, I began ramping up my campaign in January 2009 for the November 2009 election. As a result, I was able to beat a campaign with three dollars to each of mine. But by today’s standards, starting several months before the competition will not be enough.
This year I observed the election from the perspective of the average voter, and I really didn’t discern any real activity on any of the pro-community campaigns until around six months before the election. Denver teachers paid extra dues for the political action fund that went to pay for a political consultant. Why didn’t the consultant get these candidates going sooner? On what are the hard-won dollars of teachers actually being squandered?
No, the campaign for 2015 started on November 6, the day after the election. My advice for any prospective pro-community candidate is to start campaigning NOW. Go to house district meetings for all political parties. Go to neighborhood organization meetings and either join or start an education committee. Join your nearest school’s collaborative school committee. Don’t have a PTA at your school? Start one. Be seen. Talk to people about education. Use trainings and other resources to start putting your game plan together (like Wellstone). Do something now.
He or she who knocks on the most doors, wins. It is possible to beat the money (I proved it), but if you think this is going to be a cinch, you’ve got another thing coming. Get serious. Stop fawning over Diane Ravitch when you could be knocking on doors instead; she has no money to help your campaign. Our kids need you. GET TO WORK.