School board elections rarely garner significant attention -- these are not the typical high-profile races that bring in big money, U.S. Senate seats, and shady organizations known as Super PACs.
This year has been different.
Perhaps big donors have become so accustomed to writing big checks for political causes that, in an off-year election, they embrace an inner compulsion to finance somebody, anybody.
So far this year, the Denver Public Schools board race has seen more than $600,000 in campaign funding--and that's just for three of the seven candidates (there are seven candidates in total). Fox 31 reports $261,000 of the trio's war chest can be tied back to deep pocketed CEOs and industry executives. The three candidates have also been endorsed by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and The Denver Post.
The election's hefty price tag has begun to attract the national spotlight, with District 1 candidate Emily Sirota appearing on MSNBC Monday night to discuss the impact of big money in the race (see video below). Sirota is no political newbie. Her husband is David Sirota, a well-connected liberal talk-show host, syndicated columnist, and political wrangler. Probably unbeknownst to MSNBC, prior to lamenting the impact of outside money in the race, Sirota flew in Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer for a campaign fundraiser.
Elsewhere in the spotlight, Sirota's husband argues in a Salon article that former President George W. Bush's visit to Denver last week under the auspices of education reform was "clearly designed to influence the education debate dominating the upcoming school board election."
How has this become such a contentious election? In an article titled 'Big Money, Bad Media, Secret Agendas: America's Wildest School Board Race,' The Nation notes that Colorado election law imposes strict funding limits on every type of political race in the state, except school board elections. This has unloaded an influx of contributions and converted the 'quintessential American contest' into a far more polarizing debate.
Jefferson County, Denver metro's western neighbor, has also seen the partisan volume turned up, as has nearby Douglas County. In an interview with 9News, Jefferson County Republican Chairman Don Ytterberg expressed pride at his party's involvement there. Despite officially being a non-partisan race, Ytterberg says his job is to get Republicans elected at any level. "I guess in response to people who would question our activity, I'd say, 'Gee, I don't understand the question,'" he told 9News.
Shortly after Douglas County Republican Party Chairman Mark Baisley helped put GOP candidates on the school board there, the board passed a voucher program enabling students to use public funds to attend private schools. The controversial measure was halted by a court injunction and faces a protracted legal battle with the ACLU.
Ballots for the Denver election should be dropped off at centers no later than 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 1, 2011.
WATCH District 1 candidate Emily Sirota discuss the impact of money in the Denver Public Schools race on MSNBC: