Campaign Notebook

April 28, 2004 3 min read

GOP Senate Hopeful From Colorado Seeks to Fix School Law He Opposed

While the No Child Left Behind Act has faced a lot of criticism from Democratic candidates for federal office this election season, a Republican running in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Colorado isn’t exactly a big fan of the law either. In fact, he voted against it.

Election 2004

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, an outspoken conservative who played an active role in education matters during this three terms in the House of Representatives, is hoping to win the seat being vacated by a fellow Republican, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

“I want to fight for the elements of No Child Left Behind that were stripped out of the original bill as it moved through Congress,” Mr. Schaffer said in an interview last week. “It was dramatically watered down by Democrats in the House and Senate.”

In particular, he pointed to two measures initially proposed by President Bush. One would have allowed federal money to be used for private school vouchers for students in low-performing public schools. Another would have permitted states or school districts to convert much of their federal aid under the law into block grants in exchange for signing five-year performance agreements. Both proposals were considered deal-breakers by Democrats and didn’t survive.

During House floor debate in May 2001, Mr. Schaffer said: “Free- market schooling is a good idea, and it should be applied to those who suffer from the worst effects of failing schools. This is the core provision of the president’s bill. Failure to restore it really leaves little for us to support.”

Mr. Schaffer ultimately joined 32 other House Republicans (and six Democrats) in voting no on the federal legislation.

Still, Mr. Schaffer suggested last week that “there are many aspects of [the law] that are a step in the right direction.”

Mr. Schaffer faces a formidable primary opponent in Peter H. Coors, the chairman of Golden, Colo.-based Adolph Coors Co. and Coors Brewing Co., who joined the race this month. Indeed, the state’s Republican governor, Bill Owens, dealt the Schaffer campaign a blow after withdrawing his earlier support and handing it instead to the beer-company executive. Even so, political analysts haven’t ruled Mr. Schaffer out.

“I think he’s got to be rated as the underdog, both in the primary and in the general election,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University. But, he added, “this is not a throwaway candidacy.”

Colorado’s primary is Aug. 10.

Overall, Mr. Schaffer said education would be “the most important issue” in his campaign.

“It is the topic that I spent the most time and energy on” during nine years in the Colorado Senate and six more in Washington, where Mr. Schaffer served on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Even after leaving Congress, he has continued to focus on education as the president of a Denver-based nonprofit organization called the Colorado Alliance for Reform in Education. The group helped push a pilot private school voucher program in the state that was signed into law last year. The group also has helped promote the program to low-income families, even though it has been put on hold pending a legal challenge.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar is widely viewed as the leading contender in the Senate race. Another candidate for the Democratic nomination who knows a thing or two about education is Mike Miles, who is an assistant superintendent of the 5,900-student Fountain-Fort Carson district.

Effuse or Lose

Two young voters could get a serious boost to their political careers this summer, should they feel a call to public office.

The MTV cable channel teamed up with the Republican and Democratic national committees to announce this month an essay contest for voters ages 18 to 24 with a prize many a politician would drool over: a prime-time slot during one of the national political conventions.

Visit MTV’s Choose or Lose online.

The Republican contest, dubbed “Stand Up and Holla!,” asks applicants to, in 300 words or less, answer the question: “Why is the president’s call to community service important, and how have you demonstrated it?”

The Democratic contest, called “Speak Out for the Future,” asks applicants to explain, with the same space constraints, “why politics is important to your generation.”

The winner in each case will get to read his or her essay at the party’s convention.

—Erik W. Robelen