Mesa County Democrats shun endorsements in school races

Mesa County Democrats will not endorse candidates in the Nov. 5 District 51 School Board election.

Jo Lynn Phillips, chairwoman of the Mesa County Democrats, sent an email to the group’s members last week saying the party’s executives believe the election “should be nonpolitical.”

The letter explains the party has no plans to write checks to any school board candidate, which it did for school board members Diann Rice in 2007 and Greg Mikolai in 2009, and encouraged party members to research candidates by attending board meetings and candidate forums and viewing candidate web sites.

“Given the partisan flavor initiated by the (Mesa County) Republican Party, especially the Republican Women, we had a discussion and we felt it should be non-partisan,” Phillips said.

Mesa County Republican Women endorsed school board candidates Pat Kanda, Mike Lowenstein and John Sluder last month after interviewing those three candidates.

The other four candidates for the three seats open this election said they were not interviewed.

The Republican Party did not make direct contributions to any of the five candidates who have received contributions from any source in the last seven school board elections, although party executives past and present contributed to two of those campaigns. Campaign finance reports for this year’s candidates will become available Oct. 15.

Nineteen District 51 School Board candidates between 1999 and 2011 received no funds from any contributor. Among the candidates who did receive contributions, Rice led the way with $5,235.56 in contributions. Board President Greg Mikolai raised $5,000 four years ago; his contender in that race, Rose Pugliese, raised $3,004.68; board member Ann Tisue raised $2,013.51 in 2011; and former board member Dan Robinson raised $330.77 in 2003, according to Secretary of State campaign finance records.

Phillips said her letter and the party’s decision to avoid endorsements was not a direct response to the Republican endorsements, although their actions were noticed by local Democrats. She said she isn’t sure why the party contributed to campaigns in the past but current leadership is against it and she said she cannot recall the party ever making a school board candidate endorsement.

“It’s tempting to try to fight fire with fire sometimes but our membership is pretty solid in its principles,” Phillips said. “We haven’t joined the partisan crowd. We don’t believe it needs to go in that direction. We don’t consider that to be in the best interest of our community.”

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