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Voucher backers organize to recruit candidates

Emboldened by last year's takeover of the Colorado Springs School District 11 board, school-voucher proponents have formed a political committee aimed at influencing future school board elections throughout El Paso County.

The committee, Citizens for Student Achievement and Progress, was registered with the county clerk and recorder's office last month. Its stated purpose is to "support and assist education reform candidates and issues in El Paso County school districts."

"Education reform" is a term often used by voucher backers to describe their agenda.

The committee has no official membership. Its registered agent is Bob Gardner, a local attorney and longtime Republican activist. Gardner worked on the campaigns of the four pro-voucher candidates who won election to the District 11 board last fall, helped by hefty contributions from wealthy voucher supporters, including Colorado Springs real-estate developer Steve Schuck.

"It is a political committee that would be the vehicle to assist any reform-minded candidate -- those who believe in school choice, charter schools and any other reforms to make education accountable and effective for the taxpayers," Gardner said.

Gardner said he's restricted by attorney-client privilege from divulging who is behind the committee. However, he noted that once the group begins to collect contributions, the donors' identities would be a matter of public record.

Political committees are allowed to raise money and make contributions directly to political candidates and ballot-issue campaigns. They can also campaign independently for or against candidates and issues. They are required to be registered and must report their contributions and expenditures.

Last fall's D-11 election demonstrated that it's possible to field "reform-minded" candidates and win, Gardner said. Though the next local school board elections are a year and a half away, he said it's not too early to begin identifying and recruiting sympathetic candidates.

The committee has not yet reported any contributions.

-- Terje Langeland

Democratic primary looms as Miles hangs on Colorado Democrats appear headed for a primary election to decide who will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Going into this weekend's state Democratic assembly in Pueblo -- where party delegates will vote on candidates -- Fountain educator Mike Miles and state Attorney General Ken Salazar both have the support of enough delegates to secure a place on the primary ballot.

That means Democratic voters may be asked to choose between Salazar and Miles in a primary election on Aug. 10.

Miles, a former diplomat, has campaigned for Campbell's senate seat for more than two years. But Salazar, originally from Alamosa, became the favorite to win the Democratic nomination when he jumped into the race in March, after Campbell announced he would not seek re-election.

Considered by many the stronger candidate due to his statewide name recognition, Salazar has won the backing of key Democratic leaders. Nonetheless, Miles still has the support of 42 percent of all the "committed" delegates who will be voting on the nomination Saturday.

"Right now, we're very hopeful," said Liz Gauthier, a spokeswoman for Miles' campaign.

About 85 percent of the delegates attending the assembly are committed, meaning they have pledged their votes in advance to either Salazar or Miles. However, committed delegates are free to change their minds.

To land a spot on the primary ballot, a candidate must win at least 30 percent of the delegate vote.

Some Democrats have pressured Miles to drop out so that the party can avoid a primary fight and unify behind Salazar. However, a primary can be good for the party because it will energize Democratic activists and keep public attention focused on the party's candidates and their ideas, said Mike Stratton, chairman of Salazar's campaign.

The Republican Party, which holds its state assembly on June 5, also appears headed for a primary contest between former Congressman Bob Schaffer and beer mogul Pete Coors.

-- Terje Langeland

Open-space trial delayed A court case that could determine the future of Colorado Springs' parks, trails and open space program, originally set for trial this week, has been delayed.

The case consists of a lawsuit by local anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, who is challenging an extension of the city's parks, trails and open-space sales tax, approved by voters last year.

Initially endorsed by voters in 1997, the 0.1-percent sales tax was set to expire in 2009. But in a referendum last year, voters overwhelmingly agreed to continue the tax through 2025.

Bruce is seeking to invalidate the referendum, alleging that city officials misled voters by saying the proposed tax extension was not a tax increase.

City open-space manager Terry Putman has said that if Bruce wins, it could bring the city's parks, trails and open-space program to a screeching halt because the program is almost entirely dependent on the sales tax.

The case was originally set for trial in the Fourth Judicial District Court on May 18. However, the case may be decided by summary judgment since the judge, Robert Lowrey, recently ruled that the parties don't seem to disagree on any of the central facts of the case -- making a trial unnecessary.

Lowrey has scheduled oral arguments on motions for summary judgment by both the city and Bruce, respectively, on June 11.

-- Terje Langeland

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