Hot Sheet

Insights, courtesy of Chalkbeat: A GOP power player raises its profile

Author: Dan Njegomir - February 1, 2017 - Updated: June 6, 2017

We like to use our “Insights” feature to offer what we hope is some helpful perspective on the passing political scene. Not advocacy for a particular partisan or political view but context as to why things are happening the way they do. Today, we could find no insight that better fits that description than a news report published late Tuesday by Nicholas Garcia in Chalkbeat Colorado on the rise of Ready Colorado. Garcia offers an informed look at the Republican-driven, education-reform advocacy group whose agenda is much more nuanced than simply pushing the GOP’s public-ed platform. The report reveals one of the real power players influencing Colorado education policy from behind the scenes.

Garcia depicts an organization that, if anything walks a line between its more conventional adversaries on the traditional left — teachers unions and public-education lobbies resistant to change — and a rear-guard action by the GOP’s own right wing. Fundamentally suspicious of attempts to establish national standards for educating and assessing K-12 kids — think of the endless debate over the Common Core initiative — some elected officials and others on the Republican right have found common cause with the teachers union-backed Democratic left at the Capitol over issues like standardized testing.

As Garcia points out, that face-off was in fact the inspiration for Ready Colorado:

Ready Colorado was born out of the state’s testing debates in 2015. It was founded by Josh Penry, a former Republican state lawmaker who co-sponsored some of the state’s most ambitious education reform laws, and Tyler Sandberg, a former aide to Congressman Mike Coffman.

The two Republicans say they saw the need for Ready Colorado as they watched Republicans retreat from — and in some cases attack — the system of academic standards, tests and accountability measures for schools and teachers GOP lawmakers helped create between 2008 and 2012.

Which makes for a balancing act:

A number of Republicans in the House and the Senate still want to back away from the positions Ready Colorado supports. And because the organization explicitly supports Republican candidates, it’s unclear how it will be able to work with Democrats who support some of the same reforms.

As a result, the formidably funded Ready Colorado has swung left and right in the world of hardball politics. As Garcia recounts, the group has funded independent political committees that have helped elect some Republicans, like newly minted state Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson — while helping pick off others, like former Republican Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt in last year’s GOP primary in state Senate District 12 in Colorado Springs.

The hook for the Chalkbeat report, by the way, was the recent appointment of Luke Ragland, “a well-known figure in Colorado’s education reform community,” to serve as the organization’s first president.

Truly worth a read, not only if you care about public education but also for anyone interested in the inner workings of Colorado politics in general.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is a blogger and 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.