Reader’s Thoughts on Being Told that WNW Vote is “Godly” Choice

Another Guest Column for our “Faithful and Fed Up” series, this time from a reader of faith who is beside herself that her vote is being tied to Witt, Williams, and Newkirk’s “Godly” attributes:

FaithfulFedUpSomeone told me today that voting against the recall would keep “Godly” people in their leadership positions.

I felt gutted.

I found the suggestion that I would prove my respect for God if I voted for Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk infuriating.

Let’s start by saying that I disagree with them.

To me, “Godly” people don’t shame and humiliate a student who is bravely standing up to voice her experience as a student in Jeffco to her school board.

To me, “Godly” people don’t comfortably compare the atrocities that Black people in the south suffered through during the 60’s to being in a charter school.

To me, “Godly” people don’t arrogantly run a school board while pompously ignoring the needs and wants of the very community they were elected to serve.

To me, “Godly” people don’t tell students to stay at home during Jeffco’s Day Without Hate. We have a suicide problem directly linked to hateful things like that.

To me, “Godly” people don’t speak at workshops co-hosted by a political group that openly suggests violent acts in order to defend and preserve White power.

However, I will pause and respectfully acknowledge that many people may agree and even feel grateful for some of the changes this board majority suggests. Some voters might like to see our history and health curriculum modified to align more closely with their religious beliefs. So, to them, I say, vote.

As one person who considers herself “Godly,” I retain one strong belief:

Those in public office need to run their office with honesty, transparency, and a willingness to listen to their community members. A quick look into the origins of most religions will guide you to leaders who follow those clear guidelines about respect.

So, this Godly person is going to vote for the Clean Slate. Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert and Susan Harmon all bring with them a strong commitment to doing what is right. I have no doubt that they will follow the Golden Rule and treat others and they would like to be treated.

They will think of their own children when they make decisions that impact mine, they will consider the needs of the many, and they will let community input guide their decisions.

Story #8 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Koch Brothers and Other Major Outside Funding Flood Jeffco for WNW

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

Note that if we had run the poll this week, we certainly would have included Witt’s bizarre and appalling press conference that even his media allies can’t restrain themselves from criticizing and joking about. Safe to say that his presser will be on everyone’s mind for a while.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #8:

Koch

What Happened: To summarize what we posted a few weeks ago, in 2013, WNW sent approximately 6 mailers out across much of Jefferson County. Jeffco Students First also sent out “The Jeffco Observer.” According to multiple professional estimates, the mailers alone would have cost *at least* $200,000 dollars for design, printing, and postage. The Observer, designed largely to support WNW, cost a lot too.

These communications were paid for by sources outside of their official campaign reporting, by third-party organizations that were nonetheless formed specifically to aid WNW. This is what’s often called “dark money.” WNW’s campaigns also raised some money.

Clear as day on mailers was “Americans for Prosperity”: The Koch Brothers’ political advertising and activism machine. As for other donors? It appears that WNW’s biggest fundraiser took place in Arapahoe County, and the guest list was packed with wealthy donors from outside of Jeffco.

Meanwhile, Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne, and Gordon “Spud” van de Water each raised in the $35,000-$60,000 range for their official campaigns. Those numbers were indeed higher than the “official” reporting for WNW’s campaigns, but A LOT LESS than the money that was spent on all of the mailers via the “dark money.” Why is that “dark money?” Because most or all of it came from the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity, or the other wealthy donors from outside Jeffco, and THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT.

It’s like comparing two families’ spending on food for a month, and saying that one spends a lot more after just comparing their grocery bills, neglecting the fact that the other family that’s spending less on groceries is only doing so because someone is paying for them to eat out at restaurants all the time. In the end, which family spent more?

It’s simple: WNW easily outspent their opponents in 2013. In their usual sneaky tactics, WNW’s allies are just looking only at the official campaign contributions in order to convince you that they were outspent, to further the idea that their elections were driven by a “grassroots” effort.  That’s both laughable and sad. As you can see, WNW really weren’t outspent, and that’s a major reason we’re in this mess.

Why It Matters: We think that everyone intuitively understands why this matters. Political research indicates that more than 90% of elections are decided by those who spend more money. Of course, some of that is because the candidates have real grassroots support among the people that know them, but the Kochs and others wouldn’t be doing this unless they knew that it was usually successful. In local elections, although people joke about putting mailers straight in the trash, they do work because they’re often the only exposure many busy voters have to candidates. Send a good mailer, get a vote.

The juxtaposition is shocking. Not that long ago, winning school board candidates in Jeffco commonly raised $10,000 – $20,000 for some yard signs and brochures, and perhaps a mailer to a cross-section of voters. The sudden transformation from the $10,000 range to $1,000,000+ should cause anyone alarm. That kind of jump in spending, especially on a nonpartisan election, should raise huge red flags about the political nature of the fight. It should also raise your hackles.

It is a disturbing trend that anyone can spend unlimited amounts, mostly hidden, wherever there want, on any local race in the country. Somehow it seems even more painful in Jeffco. Maybe that’s because we’re from Jeffco, and we pride ourselves in the rich history of independence and spirited debate among locals here. This is Colorado; this is Jeffco; we are independent and don’t take well to outsiders with an agenda trying to buy elections and supporting candidates that they don’t even know.

It also matters because it looks as if they’re on an even bigger spending spree to support WNW in 2015. Look for “Americans for Prosperity” on that TV ad, door hanger, or mailer…and then vote for Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell, who have vastly more local support in every way.


 

Story #9 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Against Policy, Witt Repeatedly Withholds Information and Forces Surprise Votes

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure. We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #9:

What Happened: First, check out the two videos here, courtesy Support Jeffco Kids and Transparency Jeffco:

Support Jeffco Kids | Facebook

One more small clip. What is the rush? Why not thoughtful discussion? Why not follow policy? They already have the votes to do anything they want to do,…

Board of Education 12-12-13

This is video from the December 12th, 2013 board of education meeting and study session. In it, the board discusses hiring an attorney solely to represent the board.

If these were the only two instances of last-minute information sharing, surprise motions, and violations of “Sunshine Laws,” that would be troubling enough. Rest assured, these videos from September 2015 and December 2013 are just the bookends of a long string of such instances. For strategic reasons, maybe not wanting community criticism, Ken Witt hides as much information as possible from Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman. Dahlkemper and Fellman protest that they have not had enough time to review the motion at hand or the relevant background information. They have also not had enough time to ask appropriate questions. Sometimes they (correctly) allege that the late information sharing and surprise vote-taking go against stated board policy. Witt goes ahead and holds the vote anyway. John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have obviously been apprised of the background information, go along with Witt and create a 3-2 vote.

Why It Matters: Trust and good governance. The linchpin of our democratic republic is informed decision making, first by voters about candidates, and then by elected officials about the things they’re voting on. Ours is a country, and a community, that is fine with being in the minority of opinion, if we feel like the issues have been thought through and discussed by the officials we’ve elected. Dahlkemper and Fellman, over and over, could not make informed decisions, because Witt consistently didn’t allow them to be informed in a reasonable manner. Voters see through that. It’s as if everyone that voted for Dahlkemper and Fellman was being disenfranchised every time this happened. People expect better from our public officials.

Furthermore, the pubic deserves to hear spirited debate and a critical back-and-forth about the tough issues facing the school district, even if the discussion still results in a 3-2 vote. Short-circuiting such discussion is the purview of despotic leaders. It’s fear-driven. For a “leader” who claims a “mandate” from the voters, to then hide so many discussions about his decisions, there’s a level of hypocrisy that’s obvious to anyone that’s fair-minded.

As was pointed out many times: they had the votes, why did Witt keep doing this? Was it to not allow critical discussion? Was it that their invisible handlers were impatient to keep WNW on a certain timeline according to their playbook, so they didn’t want to have votes spill over or tabled until the next board meeting? Was it just clumsiness and a Nixonian above-the-law arrogance? Perhaps all three of those things? We’ll never know, but we do know that the frequency with which this happened made a lot of people take notice, and that it further eroded whatever trust this board had.

With that, your new daily reminder to vote Lasell, Stevens, Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell, a decidedly competent and independent-thinking group.

2013-2015 Poll Results: School Board Story #10: Witt and Newkirk Call Jeffco Students “Ignorant” and “Pawns”

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure. We presented many that didn’t make the cut; and they were troubling enough. Today we begin the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people.

#10: Witt and Newkirk Call Jeffco Students “Ignorant” and “Pawns”

What Happened: After Julie Williams’ clumsy, misinformed, and shocking proposal to review AP U.S. History to reduce references to “social discord” and “civil disobedience,” teacher and student walkouts ensued, garnering enormous local attention, as well as national and international attention. Instead of trying to neutralize Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt instead went on a media tour attacking the students. Witt stated on radio and TV that the students were “pawns” of the teachers’ association, and Newkirk blamed student “ignorance” as the root of their discontent. This quickly doubled the anger of the students, and many parents, who couldn’t believe that the elected school board would diminish the intelligence of the students they serve, and imply that the students couldn’t think for themselves. Especially because there was so little to support Witt and Newkirk’s position, community reaction was fierce, with “Pawn” shirts selling like hotcakes and the term becoming a rallying cry.

Why It Mattered: The headline story was, of course, Williams’ proposal, which we’ll see later in this Top 10. We still believe that it wouldn’t have gotten “legs” as much as it did if Witt and Newkirk had handled things differently. They could have denounced the proposal strongly and immediately; instead they only did so weakly and tentatively. Rather, they prioritized politics and allegiance to Julie Williams over the students they serve.

Their verbal assault on the students was not only wrong factually, but bad politics in so many ways. Factually, the pair kept asserting that the teachers “obviously” encouraged the students to walk out. Despite their allies having cameras out all over Jeffco for days trying to “catch” students looking bad, they couldn’t produce any evidence. Student after student told the media and bystanders that they were not encouraged by their teachers, and in fact many said that their teachers discouraged it. With many hours of filming, Witt and Newkirk’s allies got just one student to hint once that their teacher may have thought it was a positive thing for them to be doing. In a district of 4,000 teachers, and thousands of students walking out, that’s about as thin as it gets. The school board’s supporters also mocked the students as just wanting to get out of class, even though most knew about the basic issues at stake and were genuinely angry or concerned. This added to the insult, of course.

When a school board is battling massive numbers of its own students, and demeaning their intelligence, the winner won’t usually be the school board. We’re not saying that things would have ended well for WNW with this situation, but they lost all trust from a huge portion of the community when they turned their fire on the students.

For this poll, we actually split the AP U.S. History story into two different stories, because we believed that Witt’s and Newkirk’s responses were so pivotal and telling as a separate story that doubled the impact of the original proposal, and indicated to the community where their allegiances really lied. Apparently you agreed.

Education official says students used as ‘pawns’

DENVER (AP) – As a new wave of young protesters in suburban Denver rallied against an education proposal to promote patriotism and downplay civil disobedience, the district’s school board president said Thursday that students were being misinformed and used as “pawns.”

JeffCo Evangelical Christian: Why I Support the Recall

FaithfulFedUpA Special Note to JCSBW Readers: It’s no secret that Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk have been specifically courting the evangelical Christian crowd as a voting bloc.  Many, maybe most of us, that write for JCSBW are Christian too, though we see some issues a little differently than our school board majority. 

We have shared a lot of important information with you the last two years, and at this point we imagine that we’re “preaching to the choir” much of the time. That’s one of the reasons that we have kept asking you to share our stories, whether by email or on Facebook. This is a classic case.

We are very impressed by this letter in response to our “Faithful and Fed Up” request and are guessing that you probably know some good Christian people who need the “permission” that this reader is giving. So with two weeks to go before people get their ballots, please do share.

I’m an evangelical Christian and will be voting to recall Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk.

I attend a conservative Christian church in Jeffco. Probably not the most conservative church in Jeffco, but pretty conservative. I don’t know everyone’s political backgrounds, but it seems like most members are Republican, with some Independents and I think there are a few Democrats too. I’m not the most conservative in my church, but maybe average. I’m a Republican who works in a corporate environment.

My family and I have been hearing people at our church that are discontented with this board but hesitate to vote against them because the board calls themselves conservative and Christian, and so the people tend to believe everything this board says. I think that Christians need to look long and hard at this board majority, and then know that they do have permission to vote against them. I do like that they are Christians, but just because they are Christians does necessarily not make them good public officials.

Here’s  my thinking. My biggest concern is glorifying His Kingdom however I can through my life. I tend to have views consistent with most Republicans, but I am sometimes slow to choose sides, especially on local issues, until I see that one side is clearly working to advance His Kingdom through their values. I do understand that elected officials aren’t appointed to force Christianity on the community, but I do think I can tell when their Christian values are shining through their actions. That is important to me.

I don’t question the faith of Julie Williams, John Newkirk, and Ken Witt. That’s dangerous territory. We are all sinners and we are all made in Christ’s image. We have to take one another’s faith statements at face value. I believe that they are Christians and they are probably good family members.

What I do have a problem with is how they treat others from their public office.

You see, I don’t think God really cares that much about exactly how schools are structured, whether there’s a teachers’ union or not, how compensation packages work, and all the legal stuff we get involved in. My reading of scripture is that Christ says to leave worry about all that stuff behind. Now, there’s a time and a place for those questions, and our public officials have to make tough choices. I get that, but I don’t think that God sides with one side or the other very much on those kinds of issues. God wants us to do our best but God doesn’t take very many hardline policy stances. I’ve heard from enough teachers and other parents that have concerns that I trust that there are two sides to all of these issues, anyway. So I don’t think that God cares that much about the exact decisions, but God does care that these issues get resolved humanely, truthfully, respectfully. That’s not what I see happening.

I do see fault on both sides, or maybe it’s on all sides. Still, here’s what I’d challenge my Christian friends to do. You know those Planned Parenthood videos? Maybe you watched one, and were shocked and disgusted, but if you’re fair-minded, maybe you thought “well this looks bad but maybe this is a little out of context and heavily edited.” But then you watched more of the videos and it’s clear, there’s a pattern of terrible problems.

The same thing happened to me with the school board majority in Jeffco. A friend of mine forwarded a clip from one of their meetings about a year ago. The behavior in the video by Ken Witt was a lot less shocking than what’s in the Planned Parenthood video, but that doesn’t make it right and I couldn’t stop being bothered by it.

I thought maybe he was having a bad night or the clip was taken out of context. I started watching other videos of the school board. The more I watched other videos and live-streamed part of a couple other meetings, the more I saw the same patterns. Ken Witt being rude and dismissive to speakers and to the other board members. John Newkirk and Julie Williams just sitting there and not speaking up. It was totally clear that at times they weren’t being open about their plans. Something is going on there and it seems like they are being guided. They make decisions without input from the other board members, and it seems sometimes it really is in secret. They don’t seem to take seriously those who have worked in the district for a long time, or parents, or teachers, who disagree with them. They can’t agree with everyone, but I just expect them to take them seriously and think it through. I know how I’ve felt when liberal politicians just dismiss more conservative points of view; this is no different. On top of that, I do believe that they are not following their own policies about transparency and notice.

I think about Micah 6:8: “What Does The Lord Require of Thee? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

My ideal public official is a Christian who’s guided by their Christian values. If a Christian seems to be acting for some other purposes, then the “Christian” label doesn’t make that much difference to me in their public role. Some people have accused those that are against the board majority of having poor behavior. I’ve seen some of that too, but I also know that people act that way when they’re not being listened to. That happens in any business environment where employees and clients don’t feel heard. I don’t think that Ken Witt just disagrees; he seems to show no signs of listening. He has to show that he is listening.

It’s Ken Witt’s job, and the job of John Newkirk and Julie Williams, to create that environment. They are not doing that. It doesn’t excuse all the behaviors from their opponents, but the buck has to stop with them. The pattern is clear: they do not seem to be acting humbly or respectfully. I hope that if they survive the recall, they will turn that around, and if they don’t survive the recall, they will figure out ways to prioritize respect and humility a little more in whatever public lives they later have. They may be Christians and I appreciate that, but in my opinion the way they have exercised power has not done honor to Christ’s name.

-Anonymous