With the November election only three months away, candidates and campaign committees are building their war chests in races with implications for education.
In battleground Jefferson County, two Democratic senators with seats on the Senate Education Committee each have raised more than $100,000 in the fights to hold their seats.
And both sides in the fight over Amendment 68, which would expand casino gambling and give a cut of revenues to school districts, already have raised a total of more than $13 million. Only about $11 million was spent in last year’s campaign for defeated Amendment 66, which would have raised income taxes by about $1 billion to support schools.
Campaign committees had to report their most recent and cumulative fundraising by last Friday. The next deadline is Sept. 2, after which reports have to be made every two weeks until the Nov. 4 election.
Key Senate races
In four pivotal Senate races, Democrats so far have outraised Republicans $356,586 to $158,323.
Andy Kerr, the Lakewood Democrat was chairs the Senate Education Committee, has raised $114,193 in his District 22 battle with conservative businessman Tony Sanchez, who was the victor in a tough Republican primary.
Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, who was appointed last December to replace Democrat Evie Hudak, has received contributions totaling $102,172, compared to $67,659 for Republican Laura Woods, a gun-rights activist who also prevailed in the District 19 GOP primary. Zenzinger also sits on Senate Education.
In Colorado Springs, former House Education Committee chair Mike Merrifield is trying to retake the District 11 seat for the Democrats. GOP Sen. Bernie Herpin won the seat last year in a recall election related to gun rights. The outspoken Merrifield, a former teacher, was generally critical of education reform efforts. He’s raised $80,381 to Herpin’s $40,277.
Former Democratic Rep. Judy Solano, a strong critic of standardized testing, is seeking to return to the Capitol as senator from District 24 in Adams County. She’s raised $62,840 compared to $4,859 for GOP candidate Beth Martinez Humenik. The seat is being vacated by term-limited Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton.
Democrats have only an 18-17 majority in the Senate, and these four races, along with a few others that don’t have education ties, are considered crucial for the future balance of power in that chamber.
House races to watch
Five Democratic members of the House Education Committee also are significantly outraising their Republican challengers.
Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon has raised $43,240 compared for $13,519 for Debra Irvine, her GOP opponent in District 61. Hamner is chair of House Education and was a central figure in 2014’s school finance debates. She defeated Irvine two years ago.
First-term Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood has raised $73,525 in her District 28 contest with lawyer Stacia Kuhn, who’s gathered $7,914 in contrubtions.
In Greeley, Rep. Dave Young has received contributions of $69,070 in his race with GOP businessman Isaia Aricayos, who’s raised $27,154.
Rep. John Buckner of Aurora has raised $37,113 in his District 40 race with Republican Aurora school board member JulieMarie Shepherd, who’s gathered a $5,786 campaign fund.
Also in Aurora, Rep. Rhonda Fields has contributions of $22,351, while District 42 GOP hopeful Mike Donald has raised only $845.
The Public Education Committee, a small-donor committee connected to the Colorado Education Association, reports having raised $230,000 in the current election cycle and having spent $137,850.
It’s given Kerr $4,900, and $4,500 contributions have gone to Buckner, Merrifield, Pettersen, Solano and Young. Fields and Hamner received smaller amounts. The committee also has made contributions to other Democratic legislative and statewide candidates and to campaign committees affiliated with the Democratic Party.
Big money anted in casino contest
The opposing sides in the Amendment 68 contest have raised a total of $13.2 million, with opponents in the lead at $9.1 million through June. (The group Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos reported no new contributions in July.) The campaign is being bankrolled by companies that own existing casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
The $4.1 million raised by the committee Coloradans for Better Schools has been given almost entirely by Mile High USA Inc., the company that owns Arapahoe Park racetrack. A full casino would be built there if A68 passes.
Modest fundraising in SBE contests
Democrats also are raising the largest amounts of money in two contested races for the State Board of Education.
In suburban District 7, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff has raised $11,990 compared to $1,870 for Republican Laura Boggs, a former Jeffco school board member.
In District 3, which stretches from northwestern Colorado to Pueblo, GOP incumbent Marcia Neal has raised $6,050, all but $1,808 of which she spent on a primary race. Democrat Henry Roman, former superintendent of the Pueblo 60 district, has raised $10,754 and has $9,486 still in the bank.
In Denver-based District 1, Democrat Val Flores has raised $17,931 and spent virtually all of it in a primary. She doesn’t have a Republican opponent.
Taggart Hansen, Flores’ primary opponent, raised $36,448 in his losing effort. Two independent expenditure committees, which act independently of a candidate’s committee, also raised significant funds. The BSSC Committee, which is affiliated with Stand for Children, spent $49,291 in support of Hansen. Raising Colorado, a group connected to Democrats for Education Reform, spent $47,062. So, Hansen and the two groups raised more than $130,000, seven times the amount raised by Flores for a low-turnout race that she won with 59 percent of the vote.
This story was updated on Aug. 5 to correct information about Judy Solano’s district and JulieMarie Shepherd’s current position.