Thinking about the school board races

Public education is in dire straits in Colorado, and good options are lacking in this fall’s school board races, laments Susan Barnes–Gelt in the September round of Head On TV debates. Not at all, replies John Andrews; it’s just a matter of citizens standing up to teacher unions for a change. John on the right, Susan on the left, also go at it this month over Gov. Hickenlooper’s 2016 trial balloon, Proposition 103 to raise Colorado taxes, the GOP presidential contenders, and Denver’s lucrative cowtown image. Head On has been a daily feature on Colorado Public Television since 1997. Here are all five scripts for September:

1. SCHOOL BOARD RACES

Susan: Our K-12 public education system is broken and needs a massive governance overhaul. Colorado school districts including Aurora and Cherry Creek can’t even field candidates. Others—like Denver and Douglas County—are engaged in ideological warfare—the unions versus the reformers. Time for change.

John: Citizens across Colorado—probably including YOU, watching us right now—will soon get mail–in ballots to elect a neighbor to the local school board. Please, please, get informed and get involved. Teachers are great, but teacher unions tend to put money ahead of kids. Bad show. The reformers deserve your vote.

Susan: What happens when there are NO good choices? Choosing the lesser of two bad options is hardly a vote for progress. Neither the reformers nor the traditionalists have a corner on truth. The system is broken and needs to be overhauled. Well intended citizen volunteers are ill–equipped to manage complexity.

John: Susan, Susan, get a grip. Public education isn’t hopeless, it just needs better leadership—and the school board races offer lots of good choices to provide that. But if the teacher unions keep electing their pawns, learning performance will never improve. Citizens have to step up.

2. HICKENLOOPER FOR PRESIDENT?

John: Being Mayor of Denver must mess with your ego. Hancock was barely sworn in, and he launched a national celebrity PR campaign. Hickenlooper was barely sworn out, and he launched a whispering campaign for president. What a joke. His accomplishments as governor so far are zip, zero, zilch, nada. Cool it, Hick.

Susan: America loves quirky and Hick is quirk personified! Washington is so dysfunctional—on both sides of the aisle—that Hick’s aw shucks may have traction. As for accomplishments: Pailn? Bachman? Perry? Newt? Hmmmm – not sure qualifications count for much.

John: I know you have to defend your side, but I also know you think John Hickenlooper was a mediocre mayor. Now he’s a mediocre governor. What equips him for the White House? Does Obama run him for VP next year – the Hick Ticket? Then is he in line for next time – Hick Sixteen?

Susan: Hick was a mediocre Mayor because he’s not comfortable taking strong, controversial positions. His aversion to exercising power made him popular but ineffective. He is far more potent as a consensus driven bully puppeteer in the polarized world of partisan politics. Hick in 2016!

3. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL FIELD NARROWS

Susan: The first Republican presidential primary debate suggests the field is down to two candidates: Texas Governor Rick Perry and hedge fund tycoon Mitt Romney. Though it’s way too early to predicts, if angry tea partiers control the primaries, it looks like Perry will prevail.

John: Not so fast. In September 2007, Republican polls showed Giuliani and Thompson far ahead, McCain far behind. Didn’t work out that way. The GOP nomination to replace Obama in 2012 won’t be settled for six months at least. Bachmann and Palin are still in it. And the economy makes Obama so vulnerable.

Susan: Dream on teenage queen. Short of Jeb Bush getting into the mix, the R’s will nominate Romney. Even the heavy tea drinkers suspect Perry’s stand on Social Security. Romney, the chameleon, will lose. Unless Michael Bloomberg runs as an independent.

John: The Bloomberg who botched the 9/11 commemoration is not headed for the White House. Neither is anyone named Bush, heaven help us. But no one named Obama is likely to live there after January 2013 either. This president has made everything worse—the economy, the deficit, our national security. Obama has to go.

4. STATE BUDGET—TAX OR DROWN

Susan: DU’s Center for Colorado’s Economic Future predicts that structural flaws in the state government combined with two recessions, mean the long-term fiscal stability of state government’s at stake. I know you think government ought to drown in a bathtub—but a bi-partisan group of leaders disagree.

John: Governments at every level are in danger of drowning themselves in debt. Colorado is no exception, and just like the federal government in Washington, our state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Raising taxes right now would hurt job creation and postpone needed reforms. Vote no on Proposition 103!

Susan: We’re drowning alright—in our own excesses—waging two wars while we cut taxes, failing to keep up with China in infrastructure and educational investments, coddling Wall Street while we ignore Main Street. The deficit is mounting—leadership, vision, courage and vision.

John: As a free and open society with Judeo–Christian roots, I like our chances against communistic China, decadent Europe, or barbaric Islam. But we do have a responsibility deficit, and the result could be fiscal collapse. Feeding the beast with more taxes is not the answer. Vote no on 103!

5. STOCK SHOW TO AURORA?

John: Who will win the Stock Show tug of war between Denver and Aurora? Ranchers, farmers, and rural Americans everywhere must be laughing at the sight of politically correct, environmentally superior big–city folks scrambling after the National Western pot of gold. I guess being a cowtown is no embarrassment after all.

Susan: The Stock Show adds nearly $100 million to Denver’s general fund, and millions more to the coffers of downtown businesses, hotels, restaurants, bars and retailers. Meantime the National Western spends $1 million plus lobbying to move, rather than maintain its facilities. Bad judgment I’d say.

John: Mayor Hancock understandably hates to lose that revenue, hence his fight to keep it—so far consisting of one more committee. Woo hoo. But the bigger question for Hancock is the one I asked during his transition—can he streamline taxes and regulations to make Denver a magnet for economic growth?

Susan: Denver taxes are among the lowest in the region because the City has more commercial property and sales tax receipts than other jurisdictions. The development of the Gaylord Hotel with a $300+ million subsidy is a much greater threat to downtown’s economy than an already streamlined regulatory system.

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