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Afternoon Headlines July 17, 2017

Posted: July 17, 2017 at 2:43 pm by , in Headlines

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is coming to Denver this week — and protesters are already gearing up.

DeVos is scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative group that has successfully pushed for free-market principles at statehouses across the country. She’ll find a warm reception at the meeting, but she’ll likely get a different greeting from liberal activists and union leaders who are seizing on the chance to protest her agenda.

A “Denver RESISTS DeVos” protest is planned for 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday outside the state Capitol. The protest is being promoted on a Facebook page hosted by Tay Anderson, a 2017 Manual High School graduate who is running for a Denver school board seat. The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is planning to make signs that morning, take part in the protest and then march to the ALEC meeting at a downtown hotel.

This is Devos’s first visit to Colorado since the billionaire philanthropist was appointed to President Donald Trump’s cabinet. She shares ALEC’s support for charter schools and the use of tax dollars to pay for private school education through vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts.

Inez Feltscher Stepman, director of ALEC’s Education and Workforce Development Task Force, lauded DeVos’s support for school choice and for making clear that decision-making about education should be invested in states. She said, “It’s really encouraging to hear (states) should have the primary responsibility for crafting their education systems, and should be the leaders in education reform and opportunity.”

A U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman did not respond to questions this week about whether DeVos has any other stops or appearances planned during her Colorado trip.

The secretary has a standing invitation from Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado to visit Denver Public Schools and get a window into the district’s brand of school choice. DeVos has been critical of the district, implying that its choices are lacking because students can’t use private school vouchers or don’t have enough charter schools from which to choose.

A district spokesman said Thursday a member of DeVos’s team contacted the district to ask about learning more about its efforts to serve students learning English. Approximately 37 percent of Denver’s 92,000 students are English language learners. The spokesman said the district is working to connect the DeVos team member with DPS’s experts, but “there are no plans in place right now.”

Hundreds more voters in Colorado took themselves off the rolls following news that a presidential commission set up by Donald Trump asked states for its voters’ personal information.

The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office— as of July 14— show 3,738 voters cast off their franchise. The state has slightly more than 3.7 million registered voters. Looking at the party breakdown, far more Democrats than Republicans un-registered to the tune of 2,037 to 367. As for unaffiliated voters, 1,255 un-registered to vote.

Leading the purge for third parties is the Green Party, with 40 un-registered members in Colorado in recent weeks. Thirty-four Libertarians jumped ship.

Voters across the state have been un-registering since the news broke on June 29 that Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked for each voter’s name, birth year, party affiliation and where and when they voted in Colorado. That information is already publicly available for anyone who asks for it in Colorado under the state’s open records laws.

Colorado GOP Secretary of State Wayne Williams planned to honor Trump’s request on July 14, but the commission asked him to hold off because of a legal challenge from a national privacy group.

County elections officials across Colorado told The Colorado Independent that voters don’t want their personal information going to the current presidential administration. Some have urged voters not to unregister.

“If you de-register they win,” said Denver elections director Amber McReynolds.

Trump set up his commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and co-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who is running for governor, ostensibly to investigate voter fraud. Trump has said, without evidence, that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election he won.

Asked why voters in Colorado might be leaping off the rolls, Kobach said it could be people who aren’t actually qualified to vote, such as felons and non-citizens, or just a political stunt.

County elections officials in Colorado, Democrats and Republicans alike, blistered those claims.

“We have no reason or data to suggest that the voters who have withdrawn their voter registration were not eligible electors,” Arapahoe County elections head Matt Crane, a Republican, told the website Colorado Politics.

Denver’s McReynolds said she believes it “disingenuous” to label the in-state reaction as a political stunt, adding, “voters have told us directly their withdrawals are due to privacy concerns.”

Secretary of State Williams said he hoped those who left will come back on the rolls and reiterated that no information about them that isn’t already public will go to the commission.

The big-money influence of the oil and gas industry on Colorado has been making headlines this week. This morning, The Greeley Tribune ran a story originally from Sunday’s Denver Post reporting that the industry has poured more than 80 million dollars into the state in the past four years.

That money was used to “shape public opinion and influence campaigns and ballot initiatives, creating a political force that has had broad implications throughout the state,” the paper reports.

Environmentalists and industry officials have called the effort one of the best-financed operations advocating for drilling in any state.

Two months ago, the industry successfully lobbied Republican legislators to kill a bill that would have mapped oil and gas flowlines in the wake of the fatal home explosion in Firestone. According to the Post, “Energy interests also have helped elect local city council candidates more favorable to allowing drilling near housing and blunted efforts across the Front Range to restrict drilling rights.”

And last year, “industry forces played a role in keeping the state Senate in Republican hands. They spent heavily during the election cycle to “convince voters across the state to make it harder to amend the state constitution, dealing a blow to anti-fracking activists’ hopes to curtail drilling through a statewide ballot initiative.”

For more on these and other local stories go to ColoradoIndependent.com.