In a surprise move during the January meeting of the Colorado State Board of Education, a Republican-controlled Board relinquished power to the Democrat minority. Sending shockwaves across Colorado’s political landscape, the newly elected Chair, Marcia Neal (R), cast the deciding vote for Angelika Schroeder (D) as Vice Chair. Typically, the positions of Chair and Vice Chair are held by majority members of the partisan Board.
The remaining three Republican Board members, Pam Mazanec, Deb Scheffel, and Steve Durham all provided statements to Politichicks expressing their disappointment in Neal’s decision.
“As part of a majority on the Colorado State Board of Education, I fully expected Marcia to join her party colleagues to elect fellow Republican Steve Durham to serve her as Vice Chair. Her decision to instead join the Democrat minority to defeat her fellow Republican was a surprise.” said Mazanec.
Scheffel explained the situation of having a divided majority. “The reality is we didn’t have the votes to get a Republican elected as Vice Chair. We nominated Steve Durham and he got three votes, but we needed four to elect him,” stated Scheffel.
“Her decision was a slap in the face to every credible Republican leader who went out on a limb to support her,” said Durham, referring to the support Neal received from GOP leadership during a heated election cycle. Neal had been struggling with lackluster grassroots support for her campaign due to a perception that she favored Common Core and the excessive high stakes testing that accompany it. The Democrat that Neal supported for Vice Chair is a known supporter of Common Core and its related mandates.
Even the Colorado GOP State Chair weighed in on the debacle in a press release. “Had the opposition party won a majority on the State Board of Education in the most recent elections, I do not believe Democrats would have chosen to divide their loyalties or their votes for board leadership.”
Neal provided a written explanation which placed blame on Mazanec, Scheffel and Durham, accusing her fellow Republicans of attempting a back room deal to prevent her from receiving the Chairmanship.
Neal wrote in her statement from January 9th, “In the past six weeks, current Republican members of the CDE Board have offered at least two, and possibly three Democrats the Vice Chairmanship of the Board if they would vote against me for Chair. Is that not a problem?” Follow up phone calls were made to Mazanec, Scheffel, and Durham for comment—all of whom denied the allegations.
Neal claimed to have nothing to do with the nomination for Vice Chair and said that she didn’t know it was coming. Neal clarified that board member Jane Goff’s nomination of Schroeder specified that “in the event the Chair didn’t fulfill the term, there would be an election for replacement”—in other words, the Vice Chair would not automatically become Chair. Despite the language of the nomination, the Board’s policy states the Vice Chair would replace the Chair. Should Neal unexpectedly step down, it remains unclear whether the Democrat minority would honor the vote that reflected the will of the Board or if they would fight for control based on Board policy.
“I only made the choice at the last minute and perhaps it was not a good choice, but having the disrespect of my three fellow Republicans was not conductive to wise decisions,” Neal stated. However, the choice to empower a pro Common Core Democrat over a fellow Republican Board member may cost Neal the respect from Republicans across the state.
Neal also had some choice words for State Chair Ryan Call:
“So spare me Ryan Call, your lectures on ‘fellow’ Republican loyalty. I’m a life long Republican with rancher heritage and I’ll match anyone on Republican loyalty.”
(Ironically, before Call was elected to the position of State Chair of the Colorado Republican Party, he gave financial support to a Democrat candidate. In 2007, he donated $400 to the campaign of Grand Junction native Bernie Buescher.)