From wolves to abortion, soft money drives wedge issues in Colorado House District 26 race
Whether wolf reintroduction, political extremism or abortion access, outside groups spending thousands on the Colorado House District 26 race would like voters to believe each candidate is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
A purple mailer paid for by Republican-supporting group Restore Colorado Leadership Fund includes a computer-edited picture of Democrat Meghan Lukens with her hands over her ears, as it claims she urged voters to support the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado.
In response, Lukens has repeatedly said she opposes wolf reintroduction and voted against it.
The Better Colorado Alliance can use photo-editing software, too. A mailer from the Democrat-supporting group features Republican Savannah Wolfson in a sheep’s costume next to U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and a grinning wolf, both in matching getups. The mailer claims Wolfson wants to be “another Lauren Boebert” and only cares about political attacks, not the constituents of House District 26.
“If they have to tie me completely to everything (Boebert has) ever said or done, that proves they don’t have any dirt on me,” Wolfson said of the mailers.
While both candidates say they are running positive campaigns, focusing on their qualifications and on the issues, outside groups — which are not allowed to coordinate with the candidates — have been more than happy to throw mud for them.
According to a Steamboat Pilot & Today analysis, Better Colorado Alliance has spent more than $100,000 as of Oct. 4 supporting Lukens or opposing Wolfson. At the same time, Restore Colorado Leadership has spent about $11,000 so far, and Wolfson is one of 19 candidates the group Unite for Colorado Action has spent over $150,000 to support.
“I signed up for this,” Wolfson said during an interview Wednesday, Oct. 12, in Oak Creek, where she lives. “I knew that side of it was going to happen; it’s not surprising.”
“Outside money is something that I have no control over,” Lukens said Wednesday from Steamboat, her hometown. “Given that we are such a competitive seat and will be for the next 10 years, whether I’m running or not, outside money is expected politically.”
Wolves on the Western Slope
Prop. 114 mandating the state reintroduce gray wolves was approved by Colorado voters in 2020 by less than a 1% margin. Just 37% of Routt County residents favored the measure, and every county on the Western Slope, where wolves would be reintroduced, had a majority of its voters say no. Lukens, who was a vice chair for the Boulder County Democratic Party at the time, said she voted no as well.
“What Democrats, I feel like across the state, were focused on was getting (Donald) Trump out of office,” Lukens said. “I did not ever try to convince other people that they should vote for this. I was more focused on making sure people voted in general.”
Lukens said she didn’t campaign for people to vote against Prop. 114, either. Her role with the party was fundraising and outreach, and she was able to raise enough to have two paid Latino outreach directors.
“Wherever I am living, I’m always involved in local politics,” Lukens said. “My two main focus areas was fundraising and outreach and inclusion, so ‘get out the vote’ was not necessarily something I was directly involved in.”
Still, Restore Colorado Leadership Fund cites a “now deleted Facebook post” as it claims Lukens “urged” people to vote yes on Prop 114. Katie Kennedy, the registered agent for the group, shared a screenshot of that post with Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Wolf reintroduction is not mentioned in the post. Instead, Lukens wrote if “you want to know how I’m voting, check out bocovoter.org,” which linked to the county party’s voter guide that recommended voters support Prop. 114.
“I did more research after I got my ballot and decided I disagreed with Prop. 114, so I voted against it,” Lukens said in a text.
Lukens said she has met with a variety of agricultural producers including the Gittleson Family, who have lost cattle to a wolf pack in North Park near Walden. Those relationships will be important when advocating for compensation and mitigation funding in Denver, Lukens said.
For her part, Wolfson has promised to introduce legislation to stop wolf reintroduction if she is elected.
“This is a huge burden on the taxpayers and there’s, at the moment, no plan for how they are going to compensate ranchers,” Wolfson said. “I think, as we’re looking at the budget and we want to prioritize funding education and roads, a lot of people are going to start wondering why we’re spending money to reintroduce something that’s obviously already here.”
Wolfson said that short of stopping reintroduction, it will be crucial that Colorado Parks and Wildlife is able to obtain an exemption from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which would give the agency more options when managing wolves. Wolfson also said all wolves in Colorado need to be collared and lethal management should be one of the tools at CPW’s disposal.
“I think it’s really sad … they are really beautiful,” Wolfson said. “And we’re setting them up to be shot.”
Lukens said she wouldn’t support the legislature trying to overturn the 2020 referendum, but she would support posing the question to voters again.
“I would be supportive of sending (Prop 114) back to the voters, and I would be proud to talk to voters all over the state in regard to how this issue and how wolves are negatively impacting the Western Slope already,” Lukens said.
Buddies with Boebert?
While she didn’t become a Republican until 2020, Wolfson told the Steamboat Pilot & Today in May 2021 that she was enthusiastic about voting for Boebert the first time and would vote for her “even more enthusiastically” in 2022.
She won’t get the chance to vote for Boebert next month because Wolfson’s Oak Creek home is no longer part of Colorado’s third congressional district, but that hasn’t stopped outside groups from trying to draw a connection between the two.
“Lauren and I are different in certain ways,” Wolfson said. “I work really hard to communicate in a way that doesn’t put people on the defensive.”
Wolfson doesn’t openly carry guns either. Wolfson explained that she and Boebert have never spoken on the phone and said she only sees the congresswoman when Boebert comes to the district, and even then, not every time.
Mailers generally site a May 2021 story as they try to make a connection between the two. That story was part of a project to speak to voters who supported and opposed Boebert. In that story, Wolfson said she liked Boebert because Boebert “ruffles feathers.”
One claim made in mailers calls Wolfson an extremist and then uses statements from Boebert to try to support that claim. For example, the ad points to comments Boebert made in June about separation of church and state.
“I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk,” Boebert told the Cornerstone Christian Center in Basalt, according to reporting from The Hill.
However, Wolfson said she believes in the separation of church and state and that religious institutions shouldn’t have a leading role in government. Wolfson added that her family is raising their children Jewish. As for her religion, Wolfson said, “I don’t have a name for whatever I am.”
“People have their freedom of belief, but I don’t believe in a religious institution running the government,” Wolfson said.
Mailers also claim that Boebert sides with backers of the Jan. 6 insurrection, but Wolfson said she condemns all political violence. She also said that she believes Joe Biden is the rightful president of the United States.
“I think people did not vote for Donald Trump here, and they don’t like him, and he lost,” Wolfson said. “I’ll accept the election results in my own election.”
Access to abortion
Most mailers opposing Wolfson site her stance on abortion as a reason to support Lukens.
Wolfson has said she believes Democrats went too far when they passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act in April. The law, which passed just before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, codified protections for access to abortion and reproductive health care that were already in place in Colorado.
“I do make exceptions,” Wolfson said. “Early exceptions for rape, saving the life of a mother always … I don’t want anyone to die, so we definitely should put the woman’s health first.”
Wolfson admitted that a bill rolling back abortion protections in Colorado would have little chance of making it to the Colorado House floor. Still, she said she wants more parental knowledge and consent around abortion, and feels pro-choice moms agree.
“I have lots of friends who have had abortions. We all love each other. We’re great friends,” Wolfson said. “I know all of them would want to hold the hand of their daughter when she went through that.”
In May, Real Vail reported that Wolfson wrote online to members of the group Eagle County Grassroots Conservatives that she would introduce “legislation to require burial for aborted children, to make a point.”
Wolfson said she feels Real Vail is “left-leaning” and didn’t post the full context of those comments, which she said pertained to a discussion about partial-birth abortions. She said none of the bills she plans to introduce if elected have anything to do with abortion.
Asked if she planned to introduce legislation requiring burial of aborted fetus, Wolfson said no.
Lukens has said she is proud to be the pro-choice candidate in the race and emphasized that protections on women’s reproductive rights are decided at the legislature following the reversal of the half-century-old federal ruling. Lukens has also said she believes the legislature should start the process to ask voters about an amendment to the Colorado Constitution to further protect reproductive rights.
“State legislatures across the country are truly at the front lines protecting these basic rights,” Lukens said. “I look forward to being part of protecting our basic rights that are at stake, especially in this election.”
Critical Race Theory
In a May 2021 email, Lukens said “teaching Critical Race Theory is imperative to dismantling the racism that plagues American society today.”
Some local Republicans, including those writing letters to the editor of Pilot & Today and at least one party official, have been trying to make Critical Race Theory an issue in the race.
The statement came in response to an email from Steamboat resident Ken Mauldin to members of the Steamboat Springs School Board and then-Superintendent Brad Meeks. Mauldin, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the school board last year, said he was hearing concerns about the district teaching what he called “toxic Critical Race Theory.”
Lukens responded after being forwarded the original email. In her response, Lukens said that Critical Race Theory is an essential part of the social studies curriculum in the Boulder County School District, where she taught advanced placement U.S. government and politics classes at Peak to Peak Charter School.
Lukens moved to Steamboat when she saw an open position as a social studies teacher at Steamboat Springs High School in 2021.
“I have always taught to Colorado state standards, and I have always taught the curriculum at my school,” Lukens said. “I feel very proud of my classroom. I feel very proud to be a teacher that is inclusive and gives students the opportunity to ask questions and think critically.”
Critical Race Theory is not part of the curriculum in the Steamboat Springs School District, and Communications Director Laura Kubitz said the district is “not contemplating adopting or teaching Critical Race Theory in the future.”
In Lukens’ long reply, she explains what she called misconceptions about Critical Race Theory, stating that since “racism already poisons our society,” not talking about race with students will make it “extremely difficult to combat the racism that poisons our society.”
While Lukens said she taught Critical Race Theory at Peak to Peak, two experts in Critical Race Theory questioned whether that was the case, saying that what Lukens described in her email is actually not Critical Race Theory, which the experts added is a high-level topic generally studied by graduate students.
“What she is describing is an honest and accurate education for all students in a democratic society,” said Marvin Lynn, Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver, in an email. “Asking children to critically interrogate issues of race and racism within the context of K-12 classrooms is not Critical Race Theory.”
Jennifer Ho, director of the Center for Humanities and the Arts at the University of Colorado Boulder, likened what Lukens says she teaches to teaching students about electricity.
“Someone may be learning about electricity in the seventh grade, but they are not being taught electrical engineering,” Ho said.
Lukens said she thinks the issue of Critical Race Theory is being blown out of proportion by the right and should have nothing to do with her candidacy for the legislature.
“It’s no surprise that this (email) is going around,” Lukens said. “It has nothing to do with the results that I hope to get for the people of House District 26.”
Education is one of the three “E’s” that Lukens said she is running on, but her main focus is school funding. She said experts in the field, not the state legislature, should make decisions on curriculum.
“I do think that there are actually a lot of categories of people that do not feel seen in our curriculum and I don’t see the legislature as being the place to really mandate anything like that,” Lukens said. “I don’t plan on bringing a bill in that regard.”
Hello Mr. Mauldin,
I am Shannon Lukens’ daughter, Meghan, and she forwarded me your email with a few questions herself regarding Critical Race Theory. The reason she passed this along to me is because I am a current AP US Government and Politics teacher at Peak to Peak Charter School in Boulder Valley School District, I have a Master’s degree in Leadership in Educational Organizations with an emphasis in Equity and Educational Justice, a Colorado Principal’s Licensure, and a Bachelor’s degree in History. Additionally, teaching Critical Race Theory is an essential part of the social studies curriculum at my school as well as schools throughout Boulder Valley School District. As a human who graduated from Steamboat Springs High School and also someone who deeply cares about the education of American youth, teaching Critical Race Theory is imperative to dismantling the racism that plagues American society today.
I was happy to be forwarded this email because it articulates concerns that I have increasingly been hearing regarding Critical Race Theory, and your email also articulates a fair number of misconceptions about Critical Race Theory, of which I hope to further explain so you and other interested in a potential recall can consider before moving forward with a negative campaign. I have no idea if Steamboat Springs School District is planning on implementing Critical Race Theory, and from my understanding many teachers throughout the school district already do a brilliant job of teaching a multi-faceted, critical analysis focused, anti-racist teaching of social studies, but I do want to clear up a few misconceptions.
At its roots, Critical Race Theory asserts that the legacy and impact of slavery continues to impact American society. This throughline can be traced to many racist systems and structures that are still upheld in all aspects of American life (check out “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates which articulates this throughline by explaining many of the racist systems still in place). As articulated by Oxford Research Encyclopedias: “Race has historically been, and continues to be, a significant issue in all aspects of American society. In the field of education, racial inequality is prominent in the areas of access, opportunity, and outcomes. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a framework that offers researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers a race-conscious approach to understanding educational inequality and structural racism to find solutions that lead to greater justice. Placing race at the center of analysis, Critical Race Theory scholars interrogate policies and practices that are taken for granted to uncover the overt and covert ways that racist ideologies, structures, and institutions create and maintain racial inequality.”
By teaching Critical Race Theory and incorporating anti-racism and anti-oppression into the curriculum, teachers are ensuring that all students are seeing themselves in the curriculum, in addition to White students who have traditionally always been the center of American history curriculums. In addition to this, teaching Critical Race Theory allows for a more truthful, meaningful, and relevant teaching of American history, one that doesn’t ignore certain narratives, but instead analyzes how all narratives make and shape our unique country and how different narratives can intersect and impact the United States as we know it today. It doesn’t erase aspects of our students’ identities; rather, it incorporates and centers our students’ identities. Additionally, it ensures that all students are seen by the curriculum, and it is just as important for a Black student to see themselves in the curriculum and for White students to see Black students in the curriculum (and many more identities in addition to their own).
Furthermore, teaching Critical Race Theory also teaches students critical analysis and critical thinking skills, which is imperative to prepare students to be contributing, thoughtful humans in this ever-changing world. In fact, by not teaching Critical Race Theory, we are doing our students a disservice by not preparing them to engage in these conversations at the collegiate level and in the workplace. As written in the Atlantic’s Homeroom, “I’m Concerned About Wokeness at My Child’s School”, by Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer: “Curricula should allow all students to see aspects of themselves reflected and affirmed, and also illustrate how their lived experiences may differ from one another’s. Part of an educator’s job should be to question and broaden what is considered a classic. Successful schools teach children to contemplate, evaluate, and question ideas in order to better understand the world around them and their role within it. Race must be part of this discussion. That’s the opposite of diluting your child’s education. If anything, it’s making that education richer and more accurate.” If we truly want to prepare students for their future, it is imperative that we give them the skills to access higher levels of thinking rather than ignoring critical aspects of our society.
Mr. Mauldin, you mentioned, “I hope you will protect our children from such racist poison as the Critical Race Theory curriculum.” Please know that Critical Race Theory is not racist poison. Racism already poisons our society, and by not talking about this amongst adults and also amongst students, it will be extremely difficult to combat the racism that poisons our society.
Please read the linked scholarly articles that may be helpful:
- “The Case for Reparations” by Ta Nehisi Coates | Atlantic (June 2014)
- “Who Gets to Be Afraid in America?” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi | Atlantic (May 12, 2020)
- How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
- “Avoiding Racial Equity Detours” by Paul Gorski
- Equity and Social Justice from the Inside-Out: Ten Commitments for Multicultural Educators by Paul Gorski for Equity Matters blog
- Equity Literacy for All by Paul Gorski and Katy Swalwell for Educational Leadership
- “How Studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion” | Peggy McIntosh at TEDxTimberlaneSchools (18:26)
- “The Real Story of Rosa Parks – and why we need to confront myths about black history” | David Ikard at TEDxNashville
- “The Opportunity Gap in US Public Education and How to Close It” | Anindya Kundu at TED Residency
- Oxford Research Encyclopedias | Critical Race Theory
- Atlantic’s Homeroom, “I’m Concerned About Wokeness at My Child’s School”, by Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer
- “The Role of Critical Race Theory in Higher Education” by Payne Hiraldo
- Education Post: “EXPLAINED: The Truth About Critical Race Theory and How It Shows Up in Your Child’s Classroom”
- “No, Elementary Students Are Not Too Young to Talk About Race” by Brian R. Kayser and Abigail Amoako Kayser in Educational Leadership
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