DENVER – The two main candidates for governor in Colorado were asked during a forum Friday to discuss mounting tensions between students, teachers and Jefferson County Public Schools.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat facing re-election, and Republican challenger Bob Beauprez spoke on the Auraria Campus in Denver during a forum moderated by political personality Aaron Harber.
Multiple days of student protests have gained national attention after the conservative school board majority in Jeffco proposed a new curriculum review committee.
The committee would evaluate an Advanced Placement history curriculum to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights,” as well as “positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”
The committee also would evaluate materials so that lessons would not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
Beauprez said it is important for the school board to evaluate curriculum, and he said if community members don’t like the outcome, then they can judge at the polls.
The Jefferson County school board tilted to the right after the 2013 election.
“An elected school board not only has the right to speak up about curriculum and what they think are the wisest choices ... but they have an obligation to do that,” Beauprez said.
Hickenlooper said lessons should include a wide range of issues.
“You want your kids to learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, but you also want them to learn about the Boston Tea Party,” Hickenlooper said. “You want them to learn about all of history.”
The two candidates were also asked about the corrections system in Colorado.
Hickenlooper had a screenplay-like experience to go with his answer concerning solitary confinement.
The likely killer of then-prisons chief Tom Clements in 2013 is the son of Boulder attorney Jack Ebel, a friend of Hickenlooper’s whom he met as a geologist working for an oil company.
Ebel urged Hickenlooper to tackle solitary confinement after watching his son, Evan Spencer Ebel. Evan Ebel was released from prison after spending time in solitary. Upon his release, he likely killed Clements in March 2013. Ebel was shot to death by authorities after a high-speed chase in Texas later in March.
Ebel walked out of prison four years early because of a clerical error. Hickenlooper ordered a 10-year statewide audit of thousands of records after the incident.
“My friend would painstakingly describe how he saw his son withering away in front of his eyes,” Hickenlooper said.
The governor went on to talk about how many people are in solitary confinement in Colorado, which often brings out the worst in people rather than rehabilitates them.
“This individual was released into society and then he ended up assassinating Tom Clements,” Hickenlooper said. “He didn’t make the connection that Tom Clements was there because of him. Tom Clements was trying to help him.”
Beauprez pointed out that Colorado has one of the worst recidivism rates for parolees in the nation.
“What we’re doing is turning out into our streets, into our communities, over and over again, people who already committed serious crimes, and they violate again,” Beauprez said. “Criminals typically don’t go after the strongest they can find, they go after the most vulnerable.”