Election 2021: Douglas County schools candidates top money list

2 county residents make large donations to challengers

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In Douglas County, a center of antimask fervor, four school board challengers are leading the state in political contributions among school candidates after raking in at least $66,000 each, eight times the statewide average.

The four candidates led fundraising statewide among school board hopefuls through Sept. 29, according to filings with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Each has raised more than $66,000, compared to the average of about $8,200 for the 170-plus Colorado school candidates who’ve reported receiving contributions this year.

Douglas County candidate Mike Peterson reported receiving $69,841 in contributions through Sept. 29, while Christy Williams posted $67,406, Becky Myers tallied $67,391, and Kaylee Winegar received $66,929, according to state records. All four are running as part of the “Kids First” slate challenging two board incumbents and two other candidates in the “CommUNITY Matters” slate.

Colorado school board candidates are allowed to take unlimited amounts of money from individual donors, after efforts to place limits on such contributions failed in the state legislature in recent years. And two major donors are helping out the conservative Kids First candidates, Peterson, Williams, Myers and Winegar.

Eric Garrett, a Lone Tree man who owns a real estate company, donated $25,000 each to those four candidates through Sept. 29. Garrett’s $100,000 made him the top donor to school board contests through Sept. 29.

Mike Slattery, a Sedalia rancher, donated $20,000 each to the same four Douglas County candidates in September and early October, while his wife Andrea gave $10,000 through the end of September.

The opposing CommUNITY Matters slate of incumbents Krista Holtzmann and Kevin Leung and candidates Juli Watkins and Ruby Martinez raised a total of $59,000 for all four candidates through the end of September.

The top contribution recipient among CommUNITY Matters board candidates is Leung, who received $16,658 through Sept. 29, state records show. Holtzmann received $15,281, Watkins reported $14,166, and Martinez tallied $12,959.

Statewide, a new crowd of candidates for school boards is backed by a flood of cash contributions and major political endorsements, and energized by the same issues that divide voters in hotly contested state and national political races. The high interest comes as the coronavirus delta variant continues to shake up schools and disrupt learning with quarantines.

Mask and vaccine mandates, critical race theory and even the 2020 election results are among topics up for debate.

The phenomenon echoes a nationwide trend of contentious, well-funded school board contests — mired in policy disputes around the coronavirus pandemic and the social justice movement — and comes after frequently disruptive school board meetings where community members complained about mask rules and vaccine requirements.

Colorado Republican Party Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown sent an email recently encouraging party members to help get out the vote for the Douglas County Kids First slate.

This story is from The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news outlet based in Denver and covering the state. For a longer version of this story covering statewide races, visit coloradosun.com. The Colorado Sun is a partner in the Colorado News Conservancy, owner of Colorado Community Media.

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