Hot Sheet

Guess who’s NOT invited to the protest against Betsy DeVos: Colorado’s former No. 2

Author: Dan Njegomir - July 18, 2017 - Updated: July 21, 2017

Barbara O’Brien, center, and fellow members of the Denver Public Schools board of directors. (Photo via

Her name is almost synonymous with “liberal” in Colorado political circles. The indelibly Democratic Barbara O’Brien has served in many capacities over the years, including as Colorado’s 47 lieutenant governor with Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, 2007-2011.

The onetime calling with which she is still most identified, of course, is as longtime director of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the unapologetically left-ish children’s-advocacy mega-group whose for-the-kids appeals on assorted policy initiatives over the decades have been music to the ears of legislative Democrats and cause for tooth grinding among Republicans.

Now the vice president of the Denver Public Schools board, she’s still advocating for kids, still doing so in the midst of Colorado’s lopsidedly Democratic capital city, and she is taking plenty of shots at a Trump administration — and particularly its polarizing education secretary — of whom she is no fan.

So, when she asked to address a rally planned for Wednesday morning at the Capitol in protest of an anticipated visit to Denver Thursday by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, O’Brien was, as one would expect … turned down?

Her campaign (she’s running for re-election to the DPS board) confirmed it. Attempts to get the organizers of tomorrow’s rally to comment have been unsuccessful so far.

So, what gives? Maybe it’s that O’Brien, as reliably left of center as she always has been in general, is not in sync with an influential faction of her tribe when it comes to one of her own touchstone causes: education reform. She and her fellow DPS board members have championed a range of innovations over the years, including “innovation” schools and charter schools, which have rankled teachers unions.

Organized labor and especially public-sector employee unions like the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association, comprise a cornerstone of the Democratic Party’s power base. The unions are also helping run the Wednesday rally.

Which translates to, “No podium for you!” It wasn’t put that way, of course; an O’Brien campaign staffer said the rejection was vague; something about the roster being full.

The speakers list on the event’s Facebook page includes a number of union reps and teachers in the union. It also includes another candidate for the Denver Public Schools board — Tay Anderson, the precocious 18-year-old student body president at Denver’s Manual High School, who drew media attention when he announced his run this spring.

Anderson, whom we were unable to reach, is the lead organizer of the Wednesday protest, and he set up its Facebook page. The youthful candidate also is, by all indicators, running against the prevailing reformist agenda on the school board.

O’Brien shared her thoughts on the affair via a campaign staffer who texted her comments to us:

“One of the most frustrating things about politics is when all candidates agree on the same thing but won’t embrace each other in the shared mission … It is always disappointing to be excluded because of politics, but I won’t be excluded from standing up and fighting against this administration’s harmful policies. This is about kids, and I will do everything to fight for their rights and equal treatment.”

UPDATE FRIDAY JULY 21: A Facebook post this morning by Anderson clarifies that O’Brien was welcome to attend the rally even if she wouldn’t be able to address it.


Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.


  • Andrea

    July 20, 2017 at 12:45 pm


    She was tild she could not speak after the roster was full as the planning for this event started over 6 weeks ago. That Barbara O’Brien didn’t ask to speak before is on her, not Mr. Anderson.

    However, moving beyond that point, she doesn’t share the values of those of us who spoke. Denver Public Schools has been recognized more than once for being an example of school choice and a portfolio model. What these things lead to are lower student achievement, higher teacher turnover resulting in the teacher shortage, and segregation in our schools that is on par without what it was before DPS started bussing students. These are NOT the things we want in our schools as teachers, students, parents, and community members. When the DPS board members show that they are putting our students first and care about our students as humans above all else, then we can all stand side by side.

  • Tay Anderson

    July 20, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    I would love to sit down with you all because nobody contacted me for a comment. So let’s talk (720)-641-5150

  • Tay Anderson

    July 20, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I’m also 19 years old not 18.

  • lynne rerucha

    July 20, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    For crying in the soup, Colorado Politics, where have you been. The De-formers know no party on this state or any other. They are about unscrupulous ways to demoralize teachers, over-testing of children, closing of neighborhood schools to hand over $$$ to charters & monetize (thru excessive data collection) our children. DFER is every bit as much on the thick of this fake choice baloney as DeVos & this current admin. But don’t be fooled anymore…NCLB was horrible, Obama made it much worse & this Trump crew might be the death of public schools if we don’t all fight back! School is not a business, it’s part of the Commons.

  • Eve Cohen

    July 20, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    The Denver Board is trying to draw a line between DeVos’ policies and their own, but O’Brian has approved policies over the past decade that have led to DPS becoming one of the most segregated districts in the state while our achievement gap is one of the highest in the nation. Sorry, but you don’t get to enact these destructive policies, then make grandiose claims about “equal treatment” and “shared mission.” The state of Denver schools provides all the proof we need that O’Brian and the Board are not on the side of equity and true community engagement.

  • Derrick Blanton

    July 20, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    I love how reformers keep attempting to say we are all on the same side while they keep shutting down schools and privatizing education. We are all on the same side until your donors at DFER tell you how to increase their bottom line and bust teacher unions with TFA scabs.

  • Mary Reed

    July 20, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    As a seasoned reporter, had Mr. Njegomir intended to include Mr. Anderson in his interview, he would easily have been able to get ahold of him. Tay has been visible in the community and he has a steady presence on Facebook where he never has failed to acknowledge my comments on his posts. I can get Tay’s attention and I live in Ohio. The reason Barbara O’Brien would be at a protest against ALEC and Ms. DeVos’ connection to this group would be because she was against their agenda. It would seem that Ms. OBrien has actively promoted much of the same reformist agenda that ALEC represents. Why protest if you are supporting “school choice, blended learning, success for all, standardized testing, accountability, personalized learning, data driven instruction…yada, yada, yada….It’s really too late to switch sides after you have worked too hard to see the deform/privitization of education enacted. You don’t need an invitation to a protest. You just need to believe in what is being protested and show up.

  • Nancy Nixon

    July 21, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Where is Jo Ann Fujioka?

  • Angela Anderson

    July 21, 2017 at 11:31 am

    In speaking with Tay Anderson months ago about the rally I found him surprisingly quick to respond. Mr. Njegomir should be ashamed about his lack of journalistic integrity in fact-checking his sources. In truth, Mr. Anderson responded quickly and politely that the speaking order had been filled for weeks prior to Mrs. O’Brien’s inquiry.

  • Jeannie

    July 21, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Why would O’Brien want to speak at a rally to people with whom she does not agree and with whom she has ignored and worked against? To muddle her message and actions of the past four years? Seriously, she and the other six board members have voted lock step with “reform”. Closing schools, opening unlimited charter schools and innovation schools both of which denigrate union workers and professional educators. Testing to determine teacher evaluations and school ratings. Ignoring community voices. Competition over collaboration by imposing a business model called portfolio management. This was a rally/march to deny this direction of public education. I am amazed she would have had the nerve to ask to speak. Maybe it was to draw attention to herself.

    She and her colleagues and much more aligned with DeVos/Boasberg than they would like you to know and believe. This was a rally and march against the very things she has worked so hard for. Seriously!

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