Jeffco Recall Petition Drive Kicks Off Wednesday

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

That’s the word from Jefferson County school board recall organizers Jeffco United For Action:


Petition Kick-Off Event

Wednesday, July 8th
Doors Open: 5:30 pm
Program Starts: 6:00 pm

Jeffco Fairgrounds, Rodeo Arena
15200 W. 6th Ave Frontage Rd
Golden, CO 80401

Come join us on Wednesday, July 8th, as we rally to recall the Jeffco School Board Majority!

After the huge protest rally against the Jefferson County school board’s right-wing majority at the end of May at Littleton’s Clement Park, attended by some 2,500 Jeffco residents, the biggest challenge for organizers was reportedly booking a venue large enough to handle the expected demand for recall petitions and instructions. Recall organizers will have 60 days from approval of the petition language, expected Monday or Tuesday, to gather the required 15,000 signatures for each of the three Jeffco board members being recalled: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams. However, there’s a more practical need to get the required signatures in much sooner, to ensure the recall appears on the regular November election ballot along with the two open seats held by outgoing progressive minority members.

To that end, look for innovative signature gathering tactics like “sign and drive” events at high visibility locations around Jefferson County, and friendly door-knockers fanning out across Jeffco neighborhoods in the next few weeks. One thing we know about recall petition campaigns from recent experience is that they are high drama affairs–and right-wing supporters of the Jeffco school board majority, which includes large and well-funded media and field operative capabilities, will be out in Jeffco neighborhoods too with the goal of making mischief. This should motivate petition gatherers both paid and volunteer to be on their very best behavior at all times: to include ignoring hecklers and trackers no matter how much of an ignorant asshole they are, no smoking including weed, and probably get that haircut you were considering before you hit the pavement.

thursdayprotestsOn the upside, it’s possible we’ve never seen anything quite like the community’s anger–not to mention simple awareness–over this school board, as indicated by polling that looked at the viability of recalling the board majority after two rather shocking years of basically continuous bad earned media. In at least one case, last year’s ill-fated “review” proposal of AP history curriculum for various Glenn Beck-style political aims, we’re talking about one of the biggest media events in Colorado politics since Gary Hart set sail on the Monkey Business–covered by news outlets literally across the globe. This is not the manufactured outrage campaign of some political press shop, but the legitimate anger of ordinary Jefferson County citizens over what’s happened to this school board since far right candidates rode the Amendment 66 backlash to victory in 2013. You couldn’t buy that for a billion dollars, and this recall campaign wouldn’t have a prayer of succeeding if it wasn’t real.

With that in mind, there’s a plausible scenario in which getting these signatures in time for November’s ballot will not be a problem.

35 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Robb says:

    Consider if even 10% of those 2500 Clement Park attendees volunteer to gather signatures — that's 250 door-knockers with 60 days to get 60 signatures apiece. It'll fly.

  2. BlueCat says:

    Good luck Jeffco parents and students. Wish I could sign!

  3. Zappatero says:

    will be glad when these incompetent and ignorant wanna-know-nothings are gone. This whole situation is another example of Republicans causing and complaining about the failure of government simultaneously. If only voters could put 2 and 2 together as well as the JeffCo students….

    As bad as this is, we shouldn't let the Radical Retrograde Republican failures in Springs SD-11 during the early 2000s escape our memory. At that time 3 Conservatives, led by Eric Christen, attempted to systematically degrade an entire school district, attacked teachers and their union for criticizing those moves, tried to push vouchers in an environment of secrecy, and mismanaged the D-11 Superintendent at the cost of a $400,000 severance package:

    An aspiring model whose last-known day job is to bust unions in California, Christen does not believe that government should be involved in public education, which he has publicly proclaimed. Propped up by school voucher big money interests, he was elected in 2003 to the seven-member District 11 Board of Education anyway.

    He, along with three others who call themselves “reformers,” seized the board majority; their sorts of reforms, however, caught the public by surprise.

    Turns out “reform” translates to trying to obliterate the teachers’ union.

    Reform means trying to secretly install school vouchers, with the help of a team of privately-paid consultants.

    Reform translates to attempts to operate in utter secrecy, making decisions that affect the public school district, illegally at times, behind closed doors.

    Reform means kicking Planned Parenthood out of the schools.

    Turns out reform means acting like a schoolyard bully, ala Christen, or, in the case of board member Shakes, trying to exact revenge when things don’t go your way.

    In June, after a majority of the board summarily fired its superintendent of a year, and handing her a $400,000 golden parachute, a group of community activists had enough. They gathered enough signatures to force a recall of Christen and Shakes. The ballots have gone out for the Dec. 12 mail election.

    The conservatives elected to the D-11 School Board in 2003 had plenty of help from privatization and anti-government profiteers:

    In 2003, with the help of a handful of wealthy school voucher advocates, Sandy Shakes, Eric Christen, Craig Cox and Willie Breazell seized the majority of the seven-member District 11 Board of Education.

    The election was, by far, the most costly in the history of the district. Glossy mailers praising the four as reformers went out by the reams even Gov. Bill Owens lent his endorsement. Other candidates were attacked as being "anti-parental rights" and "union-boss endorsed."

    Altogether, an estimated $150,000 was spent getting the four elected, with $82,000 of that coming directly from the wallets of local developer and voucher advocate Steve Schuck and three wealthy Denver-area businessmen of like mind.

    In the community, few at the time understood the extent of the intended "reforms." Yet shortly after the election, Christen made it clear that change would soon be underway.

    "Those who can justify their jobs will remain," he was quoted in the Colorado Springs Gazetteon Nov. 6, 2003, two days after being elected. "Those who can't will be moved or removed. This is not an employment agency."

    The four, after secret deliberations, grabbed the board's leadership positions, with Shakes appointed president, Cox vice-president, Christen treasurer and Breazell secretary. In later interviews, Shakes would describe the goal, which she maintained only became clear to her over time: to obliterate the teachers' unions ("the bane of their existence"), a free-market approach to public education, and secret installation of a school voucher system in D-11.

    "They kept saying, "Colorado Springs is in the foreground. Everyone is going to be watching what is happening here,'" Shakes said, in an Oct. 20, 2005 Independent profile, of the handlers who had worked to get them elected.

    Springs voters kicked out that gang of destructive radicals after their actions triggered a recall. I'm sure newly educated (those school board members did something for education, no?) voters in JeffCo will do the same as soon as they can and maybe everyone can take these failures as another lesson, ummmmm, learned.

  4. gumshoe says:

    Wait, they haven't started collecting signatures yet and won't begin until the 8th? Ummm…. time is of the essence people. There's a short window here. 

    • Davie says:

      As the article above says, the petition wording hasn't been approved yet, so they can't gather signatures until after Monday or Tuesday at the earliest.  Only then can they print up the petitions and the 60 day countdown begins.

      I'm sure there are many organizational details that need to be addressed in the next few days, thus the kickoff on Wednesday.  No sense in getting the cart before the horse and wasting resources gathering invalid signatures.

  5. FrankUnderwood says:

    Wasn't Newkirk one of Hogan's Heroes?  Played by Richard Dawson? (I know, I'm giving  away how old I am.)

    • BlueCat says:

      Can you imagine how a sitcom about fun and hi jinks in a Nazi POW camp would go over now?

      • mamajama55 says:

        I wish that we had a sitcom like "All in the Family", which aired in the 1970s. It was a ground breaking and entertaining show about the culture wars and political issues of the time.

        We need a lovable but dour Archie Bunker character to articulate the current Tea Party attitudes and conspiracy theories, while his stereotypical liberal leeching son in law argues the other side. It would give America a welcome humorous respite from the constant polarizing back and forth from people who live in their own news bubbles.

        I don't watch enough TV, (don't own a TV) to know if such a show already exists.

        CHB, davebarnes, Curmudgeon, you are welcome to apply for the role of the dour but lovable Archie character.

        Actually, it would be more fun if the older characters in such a sitcom were the liberal ones, and the younger generation were Ayn Rand libertarians. I volunteer for the role of the aging hippie leftist mom.

        • FrankUnderwood says:

          I was thinking about old Archie when the ammosexuals came out with their solution to gun violence……more guns!  

          Archie did a TV rebuttal to a gun control advocate. My favorite part was his solution to plane hijacking. (Those of us old enough remember the days when folks would hijack planes to go Cuba, not to fly them into high rise buildings.)

          Archie's solution:  have the flight attendants (back then, called stewardesses) distribute guns to all passengers while boarding and then collect them after parking at the gate.

  6. FrankUnderwood says:

    I have to raise the strategic question:  is it smart going after all three of these buffoons, or would it be better to pick off the least popular of the three and aim at hanging on to the two seats up this November? In other words, why try to win five when three is a majority and may be more easily attainable?

    I say that because IIRC, one of the three clowns did not win by as much as the other two. (I don't remember which one.)  Why not pick the low hanging fruit rather than try to shake all the fruit out of the tree?

    • mamajama55 says:

      Frank, I guess that petitioners will have one copy of each of the 3 petitions. Since they will be identical except for the name, 3 signatures could be gotten in quick succession. That's what I would do if I were organizing this thing.


      • FrankUnderwood says:

        I can see how the signature gathering would be just as easy for three as one. But spending on advertising, literature, etc. Will they use generic (i.e., "Get Rid of Three Stooges") mailings or target each individually?

        • Davie says:

          Definitely, go with the Three Stooges in the mailers.  Larry, Moe and Curly all act in concert and should be shown the door as a group.  

          The perception of them in the voters (parents) minds is exactly that as well.



          • Conserv. Head Banger says:

            Newkirk had the lowest margin of victory, but still over 7 points. The other two won by landslide margins. What the anti-Witt 3 in this matter seem to overlook is that Williams and Witt probably would not have won by such large margins if there was not a good amount of disgruntled voters who did not like the status quo. Having three rather lame candidates running against the 3 also didn't help.

            One should be careful what one wishes for: the recall effort fails and the other two Board positions swing conservative. Not necessarily what I personally would want, but still a possible outcome. In that view, Frank's strategic question makes a lot of sense.    C.H.B.

            • Progressicat says:

              While I agree with points both you and Frank raise. I would offer this.

              First, if only one board member were to be recalled, there would be a problem.  That member would simply resign.  Then, the board would be called upon to pick a replacement.  One inevitable deadlock later, the board chair picks the new person.  That chair would either be the existing problematic one, or, if he were recalled, the new problematic one he helped pick before resigning.  Ergo, recalling more than one is necessary.

              As to the election results, the will of the voters was accomplished.  As it was with Evie Hudak.  I don't believe recalls should be allowed except for malfeasance in office, but it seems manifest that Colorado disagrees with me.  The vote was certainly in favor of the candidates in question, and, let's not forget, the money was against them:

              Tonya Aultman-Bettridge    $27,902.09    85%
              Julie Williams    $5,017.79    15%

              Jeff Lamontagne    $59,150.32    90%
              John Newkirk    $6,760.00    10%

              Gordon Van de Water    $39,850.66    83%
              Ken Witt    $8,114.93    17%

              Having said that, the members are no longer unknown, as they were when first elected, and it's reasonable to think that their actions (particularly Julie Williams') might be seen as worthy of change.  It's also true that Amendment 66 and the overwhelming opposition to it are not present in this election, and the candidates running against the incumbents will not have to take the supportive stance that those running in the regular election did for a tax increase.

              • BlueCat says:

                Very good points. The money especially demonstrates how a small dedicated core group backed by plenty of funding can take over in small, local, low info, low participation elections. Even large margins of victory reflect that dynamic more than they do the degree of broad public support. The recall election would take place in an atmosphere of a much higher degree of attention due to the broad coverage this board's controversial actions and proposals have received.  

                The money will still be a challenge since large sums from out of the district will no doubt be spent to defend the seats but with the level of notoriety now involved there could be a lot of out of district funding spent promoting the recall as well.

                I agree that recalls should be restricted to serious malfeasance, though they aren't in Colorado, but I'm not sure the conservative coalition doesn't qualify. The attempted secrecy, bullying, potential damage from attempted partisan interference with subject matter in general and AP courses in particular, purely partisan hiring practices that ignore non-partisan qualifications, hostility to the teacher's, all of which has set off an alarming exodus of teachers and will no doubt make Jeffco less able to attract quality teachers going forward are matters sufficiently pressing that recall may be seen as the only recourse available before more damage is done. Collectively, this menu of bad practices could legitimately be seen as malfeasance even in the absence of crimes.

                • Progressicat says:

                  Actually, the money may illustrate the opposite, since the current officeholders (WNW) were outspent by the other candidates 4 (or, in Newkirk's case, 9) to 1.  There was some other funding from outside the campaigns, but, as I remember it, it was about a like amount to that the campaigns spent.  WNW got where they are on the backs of votes rather than dollars.  My guess, though, is that a recall election is going to see DougCo money, which is in the hundreds of thousands– from both sides.

              • mamajama55 says:

                Also, Pcat, when you say "The money was against them (WNW)", that doesn't count the unlimited dark money CRER,* the Independence Institute in its various incarnations, Koch brothers through various front groups, local right wing blogs, (Revealingpolitics, * completecolorado, coloradopeakpolitics,). In the state legislature, ALEC-modeled bills are introduced by ALEC funded legislators to deny climate science in schools. Julie Williams' "patriotic" modeled curriculum is not something she came up with by herself.

                These nonprofit "issue committees' with unlimited dark money are what's behind the conservative takeovers in two districts. Opposing them are grassroots activists – parents having house parties in homes and churches, and Jeffco United for Change, this rally. I certainly hope that the teacher's and other unions get involved in this, as well as the Democratic party's issue committees. Once again, Colorado is at the center of the storm.

                *Jonathan Lockwood helped take down Amendment 66 with CRER.

                **including those by Devan Crean, who is now the new Jeffco marketing & communications specialist.

                • Progressicat says:

                  In fairness, the lib right didn't need much help to take out Amendment 66.  While I favored it, and have friends who worked hard to get it passed, it was DOA on election day.  There were way too many unanswered questions, many of which the opposition was, fairly, able to take advantage of.  These folks also had well north of $10 million to spend to get the measure passed, so, while there was plenty money in opposition, none of the pro-66 checks were bouncing, either.

                  There is certainly a proliferation of money in politics.  And I know, from personal experience, the involvement of monied interests on the right in local and state politics and the effect they can have on local and state legislatures.  I just can't blame outside forces for the results in the Jeffco election.  Amendment 66 supporters picked a bad year, and, IMO, a bad approach, and the Jeffco candidates picked sides.  The Jeffco school district seems not to be a liberal bastion.  Turnout seems like it was low.  In the end, folks voted for an office manager who thinks that Jesus arrived to the Sermon on the Mount on a velociraptor and a couple of her drinking buddies.

                  • mamajama55 says:

                    I'm just saying that only looking at what's officially declared in the candidate's financial disclosures is like looking at the tip of the iceberg. The various media and "educational non-profits" I mentioned in my earlier post didn't have to give any dollars to the candidates officially – yet they were free to spend unlimited money attacking Amendment 66, and by extension, unions, teachers in general, and Common Core.

                    The Koch and Independence Institute and ALEC connections to the DougCo takeover are pretty well documented now. Those links I posted show it. The connections to the Jeffco takeover will become clear in time, as the I 990 forms are posted publicly from a couple of years ago. And much will never be known, because the really big donors don't have to disclose, because Citizens United.

                    So to trace the money in real time, you have to infer more from watching the musical chairs of executive directors – McMinimee from Dougco to Jeffco, Crean from RevealingPolitics to Jeffco, Lisa Pinto from Call and Harber's SuperPAC to Jeffco, Lockwood from CRER to Advancing Colorado. And you also infer where the money's coming from, by watching the message.

                    They change their job titles, but they keep the same anti-union, anti public education message. 

                    I guess I'm saying that there really is a vast right wing conspiracy. And we need to get better at a vast left-wing, moderate, progressive conspiracy than we are now. For example -The issue committees can't talk to the campaigns (per law), but they could talk with the opposition recall organizers. The bloggers can talk with anyone, lucky us.

                    It's not hopeless – we do need to gear up, donate to the candidates, donate to the recall, have those rallies and petition drives and house parties and church meetings.  I'll donate, at least, and keep writing about it, and passing on what the Jeffco recall group puts out. There is a lot of energy and passion from regular Jeffco folks to take their schools back, and that wasn't there a few years ago. So there is hope. I'd just like to see our own semi-vast liberal conspiracy actually do some conversing and coordinating, even if its just on forums like this one. 


                • BlueCat says:

                  Thanks mama. No doubt it is was remembering this kind of stuff,without the details you provide, that contributed to my brain misreading Pcat's figures.

              • FrankUnderwood says:

                Good point about the resignation-vacancy filling game of musical chairs. And you know they would do it. There are plenty of other members of the Neville family to place on the school board.

                Two more questions along those lines:  is there anything to keep Larry, Curly and Moe from each submitting his or her resignation (not all at the same time) before the recall vote, and then allowing the existing board members to fill the vacancy?  

                And would the vote take place after the resignation went into effect or could the resigning board member participate in electing his or her successor as his or her last official act?

                • Progressicat says:

                  I suck at election law, so this is subject to correction by my betters, but, if I'm not horribly wrong, time is the problem…

                  I believe the board has 60 days to fill a vacancy before the chair gets to do it.  So, they'd need 180 days to pull that switch.  Recall petitions are due in 60 days once approved as to form.  Once sufficiency is determined (form correct, enough valid sigs, etc.), I think that the recallee has five days to resign.

                  If such a feat were possible, the chairmanship would have to pass before the former chair could resign from the board.  WNW are no Faye Griffin, after all.

                  • mamajama55 says:

                    I have a bad feeling about that. Recall election timing is notoriously easy to screw around with….see Pueblo, 2013.

                    I certainly hope the Dem lawyers advising the recall folks are as smart as Colo Peak politics fears.

                    It must be a slow news day – CPP is running a feature story about how said Dem lawyers on "United for Jeffco" mean that this is all a "Democrat plot".

                    Of course, all the issue committees to attack ballot initiatives and promote charter schools also have Republican lawyers on board – but that's different.

                    Links left out for CPP on purpose.

                    • Progressicat says:

                      Of course, all the issue committees to attack ballot initiatives and promote charter schools also have Republican lawyers on board – but that's different.

                      That's not a plot.  That's Liberty.

    • JeffcoDemo says:

      I think it has something to do with if they target one, that one resigns and the other two appoint a new nut job.  Wouldn't be the first time we've seen that around here.

  7. BlueCat says:

    At this point the margins by which they were elected probably won't mean all that much. School board elections are low turn out low info elections, easily skewed by a small dedicated group of supporters. Generic promises of being more efficient may be all that many of those who do bother to vote hear. 

    The situation at this point has changed dramatically. The conservative coalition's widely publicized, controversial actions have become notorious enough to seriously raise the level of attention and awareness and the dedicated core group will be the one demanding recall. This is not to say recall is a slam dunk to succeed. Just that the dynamic will be very different from that of the original election so extrapolations from victory margins in that election may be of very limited value. 

  8. mamajama55 says:

    A Jeffco teacher's response to the question, " Why aren't the teachers happy about getting a raise?" (Short answer – only about 20% of total teachers – the new teachers – are getting a raise. Veterans are getting a 1% raise, which after taxes is ~ $40 /mo.)


    Also, here's a nice 4 minute video by the recall organizers,  with hard data and fact checking about the changes in Dougco and Jeffco after the reformers had their way.

  9. Progressicat says:

    Looks like the recall petition was approved as to form.  Commence ta circulatin'

  10. mamajama55 says:

    Over 2000 people showed up to sign and circulate petitions at the kick off event.

    Even Fox News reported fairly on it.


    Looks like it didn’t embed, so here:

    • BlueCat says:

      Sounds like they're making a pretty good case for malfeasance

      “We have seen them, like I said, violating state laws and policies, we’ve seen them waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on things that the community has very clearly stated is not important to them,” parent Wendy McCord said.

      “They’ve done their best to curtail public comment,” Blanton said.

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