Hun­dreds protest ed­u­ca­tion chief DeVos

Con­ser­va­tive group kicks off pub­lic pol­icy meet­ing

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Brian Ea­son and Jesse Paul Brian Ea­son: 303-954-3051, bri­anea­son@den­ver­post.com

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.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Colorado Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion mem­bers and others Wednes­day start their march in protest of Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos’ sched­uled Thurs­day ap­pear­ance.

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