Party Lines

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The Colorado House of Representatives considered a measure last week that would have upset a venerable tradition in local school board elections: that they be nonpartisan.

As the full House debated a broader election-reform measure, Republican state Rep. Don Lee proposed an amendment that would have required school board candidates to campaign under the banner of a political party. But members of the GOP-controlled House rejected the amendment before going on to approve the broader package.

Mr. Lee said his motivation in offering the amendment was "to give more information to the voter."

"There are clear differences between the parties," he said, "and voters should know about them."

The proposal was opposed by many Democratic lawmakers and the Colorado Association of School Boards. Jane W. Urschel, the association's executive director, said such a measure could disenfranchise the state's independent voters in primary elections. "If it passes, it excludes the independents," she said.

The state affiliate of the National Education Association also opposed the measure.

Many GOP House members feared that the amendment would have jeopardized the election bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate, said Rep. Mark Paschall, a Republican who was the author of the broader election-reform package. Legislators' fear of provoking the wrath of the teachers' unions was another factor, he said.

"There are a significant number of Republicans who are afraid—afraid—to vote against the unions," Mr. Paschall said. "When it comes to school finance, they don't want be on the record as opposing kids and education."

Mr. Lee introduced a similar proposal two years ago that failed to clear the House.

Colorado's local political culture is defined by nonpartisanship, a legacy of Progressive-era reformers. Even candidates for city council and mayor are not affiliated on the ballot with political parties.

Still, the idea of making Colorado's school board elections partisan may not be dead. Mr. Paschall said that if Republicans regained control of the state Senate in 2003, the bill would "definitely" be revisited.

—Mark Stricherz

Vol. 20, Issue 29, Page 8

Published in Print: April 4, 2001, as Party Lines
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