Opinion | Bruce Butler: Could what’s happening in Virginia happen in Colorado?

Prior to moving to Summit County 21 years ago, I was a Virginia resident, so it is with extra interest that I am watching Virginia’s very close gubernatorial race. For those who haven’t been watching, Terry McAuliffe — a longtime Democratic activist, former Clinton operative and one-term governor — is running against Glenn Youngkin, a Republican political newcomer and businessman. The polling in this race is a statistical tie.

Twenty-five years ago, Virginia was a predominately red state, with some purple tendencies, much like Colorado. When I left Virginia, suburban house farms were popping up at record speed along the Dulles Toll Road Extension corridor, but Loudoun County still retained its traditional historic charm. Today, the suburban house farms rule the roost, driven by the influx of residents, many of whom work for the federal government or one of the many federal contractors in northern Virginia. This demographic shift across northern Virginia drove the state from Republican to solidly Democrat. At the same time, similar exponential growth was happening across the Front Range suburbs, which ushered in a similar suburban demographic shift in Colorado and a similar shift to a solidly Democrat state.

So why is the Virginia governor’s race of interest to Colorado?

Virginia and New Jersey are the two states that have off-year governor elections. Back in the day, when Virginia was a national swing state, the governor’s race was considered a bellweather for outcomes in national races the following year. As Virginia became solidly Democrat, national interest in Virginia gubernatorial elections waned. So what’s going on in Virginia this election?

It turns out that Loudoun and neighboring Fairfax County have become ground-zero in the culture war over critical race theory, parental involvement in school board meetings and curriculum decisions — and the poster child for incivility at public meetings, although it turns out the poster-parent for violence at school board meetings was upset that the school board and superintendent were dismissive of a sexual assault on his daughter in a high school girls’ bathroom.

Former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” It turns out the main wedge issue in the Virginia governor race is public education, and candidate McAuliffe only poured fuel on the fire when he stated, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” in a televised debate. His gaff, the broader debate over curriculum and parental involvement in their children’s education, an arrogant and tone-deaf school establishment and spiraling inflation have catalyzed Virginia’s suburban women voters unlike any issue in the past decade. The same voter demographic that rebelled against Donald Trump’s abrasive personality and put Joe Biden over the top in 2020 now threatens to dethrone the Democrat dynasty in Virginia. Could the same thing happen in Colorado in 2022? Only time will tell.

While I am not suggesting the Summit School District Board of Education has reached a Virginia level of dysfunction, there has been a fair amount of turmoil over the past two years. I cannot stress enough how important it is to vote in the current school board election. Ballots are out now, and I encourage all voters to register for the Monday, Oct. 18, election forum, which will feature the school board candidates.

If you cannot attend the forum, here is my 30-second voter guide:

If you support the status quo with five years of declining student academic performance and emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, then you should vote for the Summit Education Association’s preferred establishment candidates. These are incumbents Kate Hudnut, Lisa Webster, Johanna Kugler and candidate Chris Guarino.

If you are interested in fresh leadership, a renewed focus on academics and increased budget scrutiny, then consider candidates Toby Babich, Kim Langley, Manuela Michaels, Pat Moser and Danielle Surette. Remember to vote for one two-year candidate and no more than three four-year candidates.

Whoever wins, it is important to remember to be civil to one another, to allow parents and other concerned citizens to be heard, to respect sincere differences of opinion, and to never place yourself in between a mama bear and her cubs.

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