GRAND JUNCTION — Limiting public comment at school board meetings, misspending of money, failure to a appoint a like-minded replacement for a vacated seat, and teaching of Critical Race Theory in the district was just too much for the parents of Mesa County School District 51.
So, over the past few months, they organized, canvased, made phone calls, and on Wednesday morning they celebrated their electoral efforts to change the philosophical makeup of the Mesa-51 school board.
“We grew a group of 25 of us to 600,” said Mesa resident Cindy Ficklin, who also recently announced her bid for House District 55, a seat currently held by Janice Rich, who has announced her intention to run for state senate.
Mesa-51 was not alone Tuesday in flipping school boards from the historically teacher-union controlled majorities to conservative majorities. Although it was mixed returns, with most of the metro Denver-area school districts remaining in teacher-union backed control, across the state the Colorado GOP claimed victory.
In fact, a wide-sweeping victory in Southern Colorado included several school districts in the Colorado Springs area, as well as in Douglas County, while Greeley/Evans School District 6 came close, with three of the four conservatives on that ballot taking over spots previously held by far-left board members.
“We only focused on 51,” Ficklin said. “We didn’t reach out to Montrose, and we’re lamenting today over that. We didn’t realize our power.”
Ficklin said she believes her group’s success came from a well-organized game plan that included recruiting as many candidates as they could, putting them through an all-day campaign-training exercise, then vetting each one and narrowing them down to the three candidates they thought were the best for the job.
In the end it worked; Andrea Haitz, Willie Jones, and Angela Lema all won their respective races against their teachers’ union-backed opponents. Funding totals for the seven candidates running exceeded $135,000.
“This was a very grassroots movement,” Ficklin said. “We started from scratch. We had hundreds of families knocking on thousands of doors. It was really shocking to us that we won.”
Douglas County also had a complete flip of the board for the second time in four years. In 2017, teachers and their union waged an all-out battle to regain control of a conservative majority board that in the four years prior had made substantial changes to the district that included cutting ties with collective bargaining in favor of pay-for-performance contracts.
Tuesday night, conservatives took control again, with all four of what was called the “Kids First” slate winning their respective seats in what was likely the costliest election in all of Colorado, with nearly $500,000 poured into seven candidates.
“Education, public safety, and our alarmingly high cost of living are all issues that Coloradans are dealing with and these are all issues that have gotten worse for our state under one-party, Democrat control,” said Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown in a news release on Wednesday. “I look forward to more wins in 2022 as we continue to retake the suburbs and elect new leadership that will actually deliver for Coloradans.”
It was the first time in recent memory that the state Republican Party endorsed candidates in traditionally non-partisan races.
The Colorado Springs area had likely the largest gains in school boards on Tuesday as Academy School District 20 conservatives won all three available seats, Colorado Springs School District 11 conservatives won all four open seats, and District 49 conservatives also won all three seats.
Other successes in Colorado:
- Woodland Park — Four conservatives won four seats available.
- Greeley — Three conservatives won out of four seats available.
- South Routt — Conservative candidates won to gain a majority.
- Huerfano — Four victories regained a conservative majority on the board.
- Alamosa School Board— Two Republicans elected.
- Thompson School District— One Republican elected.
- Adams 27J— One Republican elected.
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