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Despite primary attack ad, teachers back Polis now

Author: Joey Bunch - September 4, 2018 - Updated: September 24, 2018

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Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy speaks at a Tuesday rally supporting nominee Jared Polis’ education plan. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

What occurred at the state Capitol Tuesday was the tale of two tapes: one from Republican gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton in 2010 and another from May that Colorado education advocates spent over $1.1 million to put on TV to attack Jared Polis, who nonetheless won the Democratic nomination.

About three dozen educators and legislators backing Polis were riled about remarks Stapleton made when he was running for treasurer in eight years ago.

Back then, Stapleton seemed to pit classrooms against prison beds in remarks about Amendment 23, the neglected constitutional amendment that’s supposed to force the state to ratchet up funding for education each year.

“I think that all state programs are going to have to compete for limited funds,” Stapleton said in 2010. “It’s time education competes for funds.”

In another 2010 quote, he says, “We’re already spending too much unchecked money as it is on education. And we don’t have enough money to go around. This is money that could be used for corrections services and infrastructure.”

Among signs that declared “Fund Schools Not Prisons” and “Jared Polis for Colorado,” speakers hammered away on Stapleton for a half hour in the bright, hot weather of the post-Labor Day sprint to Election Day.

“Unlike Walker Stapleton, we don’t want more money to be going to prisons,” Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver said. “Instead we want to make sure there are investments in classrooms and teachers, so boys and girls across Colorado have the opportunity to be able to reach their full potential.”

Stapleton’s campaign said opponents were cherry-picking his quote and taking it out of context. Stapleton thinks that if all state agencies ran more efficiently, there would be more money for schools, as well as other vital programs.

“Walker has always advocated for more accountability in education spending and has a plan to make sure education dollars reach the classroom and is used for teacher pay, not out-of-control administrative costs,” said spokesman Jerrod Dobkin after the lunchtime rally.

“In response to Walker’s common-sense education agenda, far-left Democrats decided to play political games and are being dishonest with Coloradans in the process. If Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis really cared about student success, they would be talking about where taxpayer money is going, instead of asking taxpayers for more.”

Cary Kennedy, the incumbent in 2010 who lost the treasurer’s race to Stapleton eight years ago and the gubernatorial primary to Polis in June, said Polis will deliver on education.

“We are ready to make public education our top priority, not just with words but with action,” she said to applause. “But whether or not we fix this problem, whether or not we finally provide our children with the education they deserve is going to depend on who we elect as Colorado’s next governor.

“And there is only one candidate in the governor’s race who will work to fund our schools. There is only one candidate with a record of fighting for Colorado students. There is only one candidate with a real plan to end the teacher shortage, to reduce class size and to help all of our children succeed. That candidate is Jared Polis.”

RELATED: Democrat Jared Polis releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Until the June 26 primary, Kennedy and many of the education advocates supporting Polis on Tuesday thought that candidate was her.

A key moment of the Democratic primary was an attack ad by Teachers for Kennedy, a political action committee supported by the Colorado Education Association. The ad was panned by fact-checkers.

Even incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper frowned on the attack ad, and Polis filed a formal complaint with the state Democratic Party over it saying Kennedy violated the party’s clean campaign pledge.

Among other allegations, the ad said Polis “pushed conservative anti-teacher laws that hurt students.”

Indeed, Polis supported a pilot program for school vouchers 15 years ago, but he has voted as a member of Congress against voucher laws. He has founded two charter schools. Stapleton supports school choice specifically in the form of more charter schools.

RELATED: Stapleton rolls out education policy

During her campaign, Kennedy would not denounce the ad because it was the work of an outside group, and her campaign itself did not run negative ads.

Colorado Politics asked those assembled Tuesday, including Kennedy, if they now denounce the ad against Polis released in May. No one would, but no one would take ownership of the broadside, either.

At a rally Tuesday at the Capitol, education advocates said Democrat Jared Polis was a better choice than Republican Walker Stapleton. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said the ad was the work of an independent expenditure committee. She said the teachers union was part of that group, but it didn’t make the final decision on the ad.

“I can’t speak to the independent expenditure (committee), but I can speak to the Colorado Education Association, and why we’re standing for Jared Polis,” she said. “Jared Polis is the candidate who will stand with public school educators and students and families across Colorado.

“We know that based on what he’s done in his past and his plans that he’s put out in his education platform make him the choice for Colorado’s educators, students and families.”

The Polis campaign nonetheless welcomed the teachers’ support.

“Colorado’s teachers and public school advocates are speaking loud and clear: They support Jared Polis for governor because he will invest in our schools and fight for smaller class sizes,” his spokesperson, Mara Sheldon, said via text. “They reject Walker Stapleton and his agenda of diverting money from schools to prisons.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.