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.