Hundreds protest education chief DeVos
Conservative group kicks off public policy meeting
Hundreds of people gathered at the Colorado statehouse Wednesday morning to protest the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council — a fact that wasn’t lost on the 1,500 or so conservatives in attendance.
“All of the legislators in this room know this — there will be someone who will try to silence you at some point in time,” said Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir of Wisconsin. “So while they’re out there exercising their free speech, we’re in here protecting their rights to that free speech.”
Vukmir and a handful of other speakers kicked off Day One of ALEC’s annual public policy meeting Wednesday in downtown Denver with discussions on free speech, energy policy and the importance of shrinking the federal government and repealing Obamacare while Republicans have control of both Congress and the presidency.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among national conservatives who plan to address the conference this week.
But while the three-day conference will cover a wide range of policy areas, the protesters were primarily concerned with one thing: the group’s support for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who’s slated to speak at the event Thursday.
The protesters marched a little over a half-mile Wednesday from the state Capitol to circle the Hyatt Regency, where the conference is being held.
“This needs to make a statement,” said Suzanne Ethredge, a teachers union president from Pueblo, who drove up with a group of about a dozen educators to join in the protest.
“My biggest fear is (DeVos) is going to destroy the public education system completely,” she said.
Inside the conference, opening day speakers included Colorado businessman Pete Coors, Senate President Kevin Grantham and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who praised the group for its assistance in crafting policy in statehouses across the country — something that has drawn criticism on the left because of its outsize influence in state politics and close ties to major corporations.
“ALEC doesn’t tell conservative legislators what to do, contrary to what we’ve seen in the media,” Coffman said, calling the assertion “laughable.”
“What ALEC does do is help with research, with experts, with court-tested language, and with the development of ideas,” she added.
One of those ideas is the promotion of charter schools, a key point of contention for the protesters outside.
Wednesday morning’s rally was filled with speakers, including state Rep. Joe Salazar, DThornton — who hopes to take Coffman’s seat in the AG race next year — and state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Jefferson County, who chastised DeVos and the Trump administration.
Signs portrayed DeVos as a bizarro Robin Hood, comparing her support for charter school voucher programs to taking from poor public schools to give the rich.
Teresa Smith, who’s from Highlands Ranch and a member of Uniting4Kids, said “it’s hard to know where to start” when it comes to the problems she has with DeVos.
“I don’t think she understands the issues,” she said.
Colorado Education Association members and others Wednesday start their march in protest of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ scheduled Thursday appearance.