Keith King’s Running, But Not Without A Fight

Sen. Andy McElhany has extended his blessing to Keith King to succeed him in Colorado Senate District 12. But, even with his newfound We-Can-All-Get-Along theme, King’s got some hurdles ahead – including a likely face-off with the first Democrat to run in the Colorado Springs district in more than a decade.

There is a classic story about King when he was the House Majority Leader in Colorado’s House of Representatives. One day, shortly before the legislature kicked off its 2004 session, King ran into Rep. Michael Merrifield, at the time the only elected Democrat from El Paso County.

“How does it feel, knowing all your bills will be killed this year?” Merrifield later recounted King saying. For his part, King said he had been joking, but sure enough, that year none of Merrifield’s proposed bills survived in a Republican majority that was trying its darndest – unsucessfully – to pick off Merrifield.

The tables have turned – in the House, the Senate and the governor’s office – and the Democratic Party is now calling the shots. But King, who has been out of office for just a year – is ready for a comeback. At the urging of Senate Minority Leader McElhany, himself term-limited next year, King says he plans to formally announce at Thanksgiving his plans to run to represent Senate District 12, which encompasses much of central Colorado Springs.

King, who served four terms in the House, is an ardent advocate of charter schools and school vouchers. Last year he launched a charter school called Colorado Springs Early Colleges – which enables high school students to work concurrently toward their college degrees. He says he wants to run because he’s got “unfinished business in education.”

“I’m an entrepreneur and government needs more ways to think outside the box,” King says.

Despite King’s past reputation as a hard-core partisan, he says that he has the ability to work well across the aisle – particularly with the more recent breed of Democrats who have been more supportive of education reform and charter schools.

“The longer term limits [are in place], the newer Democrats coming in are pro-charter school,” King says.

Specifically, he identifies Rep. Terrance Carroll and Sens. Peter Groff and Chris Romer as likely to support his ideas of reform. Public education traditionalists, like Merrifield and Sen. Sue Windels – both retired teachers – are less apt to go along with his ideas, King says.

“People support charter schools for different reasons – Republicans for freedom of choice, free markets, competition, raising the bar and Democrats for social justice. They are tired of failing schools failing kids, year after year.”

“I’m a realist,” King says. “I don’t know if would come back if I was so far out of the mainstream as far as what I’m trying to do with reform. I wouldn’t bother.”

King has at least two hurdles ahead – Republican Charles Fowler has also said he plans to run.

And, last week Democrat Pete Lee also announced he is running – the first time a Democrat has run for the central Colorado Springs district in at least 12 years. Four years ago, the popular McElhany beat his only opponent, Libertarian Robert Herzfled, walking away with nearly 78 percent of the vote.

Lee, an attorney who currently serves on the board of directors for Pikes Peak Mental Health, the Youth Transformation Center and the Manitou Springs Restorative Justice Council, announced his candidacy last week. He and his wife Lynn have lived in Colorado Springs for 31 years.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at