If you live in Aurora or the surrounding suburbs, Republican Richard Murray wants you to elect him to the governing board of the University of Colorado to stop Democrats from controlling CU.
That’s what’s at stake in his campaign against Democrat Ilana Spiegel, he says.
If Spiegel beats Murray in November in their suburban Denver race, the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents will almost certainly shift to a Democratic majority.
“If we don’t win this race, Democrats will take control of the Board of Regents for the first time in 40 years,” says Murray on his campaign’s Facebook page. “I will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening.
“I am a lifelong Republican, and I will fight strong for our conservative values on the Board of Regents. We need regents who believe in fiscal conservatism, free enterprise, and freedom of speech and thought.”
Spiegel argues that during the 40 years that Republicans have controlled the board, “we have seen tuition increase more than 260%, student debt skyrocket, and opportunities for diverse students decrease.”
She says a Democratic majority on the Board of Regents is an essential step toward adequately funding “both K-12 and higher education in Colorado.”
“It’s time for a change,” she told the Colorado Times Recorder.
Differences on the Issues
Spiegel, who’s focused her career on parenting, teaching, and education advocacy, is clear about her opposition to Trump and his educational policies.
She didn’t vote for the mogul in 2016 and will not vote for him in 2020, Spiegel says.
Despite promoting himself in advertisements as a “conservative Republican,” Murray won’t talk about Trump, unlike Republican Regent Heidi Ganahl, who’s endorsed and donated to Murray’s campaign and has signaled support for the president.
“I don’t want to comment on the president,” Murray told Colorado Politics reporter Ernest Luning in January. “I see it as separate and distinct from the CU Board of Regents. The Board of Regents is charged with being the stewards of the flagship university in the state. It’ll be a race with its own issues and messaging, even though there’ll be a lot of noise in the news from other races on the ballot.”
Asked if she thinks Trump is a relevant topic in the regent race, Spiegel says, “It is very relevant given the Trump administration’s complete disdain for public education at all levels, science, and research, his fondness for failed schemes like Trump University, the erosion of Title IX projections, and for-profit student debt services.”
Spiegel has a similar assessment of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
“Betsy DeVos is profoundly unqualified to serve and has no understanding of or value for the very department she is being asked to run,” says Spiegel. “Mrs. DeVos called for the elimination of any form of democratically controlled public schools. Furthermore, DeVos has bent over backwards to weaken accreditation standards and accountability for higher education while increasing profits for student debt corporations looking to make a buck off the back of students’ education.”
Murray didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and email messages seeking his view on DeVos and other education-related topics.
“Talk About What You Are Going To Do”
A Republican who ran against Murray in this year’s primary for the regent seat criticized Murray for declining to speak with the Colorado Times Recorder.
“It’s important, especially when you are talking about education, that you talk to everyone, hear what they’re concerned about, but also talk about what you are going to do,” said Priscilla Rahn, Murray’s sole Republican opponent in the June’s primary race. “I always talked to anybody who called me.”
Murray, who was student body president while attending CU, talks about himself in online videos, but offers few opinions, much less specifics, on key issues facing CU.
He’s an attorney with the Polsinelli, a national law firm, where he specializes in commercial and health care litigation.
“[Murray] has substantial experience in complex litigation and has successfully defended against multi-million dollar claims at both the trial court and appellate court levels,” states the firm’s website.
A Bias Against Conservatives at CU?
Saying in a Facebook video that “we have issues with freedom of speech on campus” Murray appears to believe that conservatives are under attack at CU.
That’s a common complaint by Republicans, who think American universities are trying to silence conservatives.
Both Spiegel and Murray list college “affordability,” as a major issue for CU.
But Murray, like many other Republicans, offers no specifics on how he’d make college more affordable in Colorado, stating on his website that he “will work collaboratively on solutions and policies that best promote investing in the future of our State — our students.”
Spiegel calls for “fundamentally reforming our nation’s system for financing higher education.” For Colorado, she cites K-12 mill levy ballot initiative and statewide ballot measures that she’s backed as examples of how to move in that direction.
“We can go after low hanging fruit like expanding the scope and size of PELL grants, moving FAFSA means-testing to tax filing, and re-working funding formulas to incentive serving students with more need,” she said in a statement. “AND we can be bold, creating Promise programs that offer free tuition.
“CU needs bold leadership to advocate for adequate state resources by addressing the stranglehold of TABOR and Gallagher. I have a proven track record of making the case that public education works and is the best return on public investment for not just educators and students, but for the entire state. I will work with business and industry to pay their fair share of expensive degree programs through innovative apprenticeships and co-ops.”
Friends of CU Athletics
Murray promises to be an unwavering supporter of CU sports and wants unanimous approval for CU coaching hires.
Those views reflect a campaign organization, called Friends of CU Athletics, set up in July by well-known Republican operative Katie Kennedy to collect anonymous donations in support of CU regent candidates who “encourage the value and importance of college athletics.”
Democrats speculate that Friends of CU Athletics will be used by Republicans to attack Spiegel.
Endorsements Fall Along Partisan Lines
Both candidates promote endorsements from much better-known politicians of their own party.
Spiegel’s website features Democratic endorsers, including U.S. Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, Colorado Treasurer Dave Young, state Rep. Janet Buckner (D-Aurora), Howard Chou, the 1st Vice-Chair of the Colorado Democratic Party; and Stephanie Rose Spaulding, a Professor at CU Colorado Springs.
Murray’s endorsers, all Republicans, include: former CU President Bruce Benson; 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler; current Republican CU Regents Heidi Ganahl, Chance Hill, and Sharkey. He’s pictured on his website with former Colorado GOP Congressman Bob Beauprez.
Murray Alarmed by Democratic Gains Across the State
Not only is Murray concerned about Republicans losing their majority on the board of regents, he’s also alarmed that Democrats are taking over decision-making bodies across the state.
“The Democrats are seeking to flip control of the CU Board of Regents for the first time in 40 years, and take over the last statewide elected body with a Republican majority,” he warns on his website.
Republican regent Ganahl has also sounded the alarm about Colorado turning blue, saying in a recent speech that November’s regent race is “very dangerous” for Republicans across the state.
“We have a 5-4 Republican majority right now. It’s the only thing in the state of Colorado Republicans control,” said Ganahl. “And we’d like to keep it that way.”
Three regent slots will be decided this November, including the Murray-Spiegel race in District-6.
The other two races (District 7 and District 2) are very likely to be won by Democrats. In fact, Republicans didn’t even field a candidate in the District 7 race, which covers the area represented by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat.
Democrats saw a growing opportunity to flip the District 6 regent seat after Democratic Congressman Jason Crow defeated Republican Mike Coffman in the increasingly left-leaning district in 2018.
Then the Republican regent currently representing District 6 announced last year he would not seek another term, boosting Democrats’ hopes further, because incumbents often have fundraising and other advantages in political campaigns.
The board of regents has nine members, one from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts and two elected by voters statewide. They serve six-year terms on the board, overseeing the university budget of about $5 billion and hiring key personnel, like the president of the university “system,” which includes four campuses: CU Boulder, CU Colorado Springs, CU Denver, and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
CO Republicans’ Last Stand?
As feared by Murray and Ganahl, gaining a majority on the Board of Regents would mark another step by Colorado Democrats toward the complete takeover of statewide representative bodies and offices.
Colorado Democrats flipped the state Senate and Colorado State Board of Education in 2018–as well as, in the same blue-wave year, the secretary of state, treasurer, and attorney general offices.
Only two Colorado Republicans remain in offices that require approval by voters statewide: U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who’s widely considered weak as he gears up to defend his seat in November against former Gov. John Hickenlooper, and CU Regent at-large Ganahl, who’s up for re-election in 2022.
CORRECTION: This post initially had the wrong first name of Ilana Spiegel.