Stanford says ballot initiative is poison
Member of state ed board taking lead against 31
By Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News
October 12, 2002
The cookies are store- bought. The punch is tropical fruit. And
most of the 30 or so people gathered at a Sloans Lake community
center already have made up their minds.
But Gully Stanford tackles this Wednesday night neighborhood
political forum with no less vigor than if he were appearing on a
statewide televised debate.
"I want to tell you Amendment 31 is a poisonous pill," he says as
he begins his allotted five minutes before the group. "It's a
poisonous pill with a thick and very attractive sugar coating -
English for the kids. Well, we all want English for the kids."
So goes many a recent morning, afternoon and evening for
Stanford, 56, a State Board of Education member and father of
two Denver Public School students who is also the face and voice
fronting the "No on 31" campaign.
It's his unpaid duty to persuade Colorado voters to reject
Amendment 31, a constitutional change that would require
children learning English to spend no more than a year in English
immersion classes before going into regular classrooms. He does
so with an energy that mirrors passionate belief.
"In my opinion, 31 is a solution in search of a problem," Stanford
tells the Sloans Lake neighbors, his voice warming as he moves
through the oft-repeated speech. "This will drive good teachers
away from Colorado."
The Irish accent and favored expressions - "Oh, bloody hell" is a
frequent utterance in his cluttered office - give away the fact that
Stanford is himself an immigrant.
Born in Dublin, Stanford was following in his father's footsteps to
became a professor of Greek when he had a brush with theater
as a graduate student in Paris. That led to work as a stagehand,
as a stage manager and, finally, as a managing director. His
oratorical ease and animated delivery reflect the years he has
devoted not only to education, but to the arts.
In 1974, Stanford followed the work to the United States and
unexpectedly felt at home: "It is a place where you can break the
mold," he says, "and I came from the mold."
His paid day job is as public affairs director for the Denver Center
for the Performing Arts, work he describes as "making friends for
the DCPA." Arts advocacy led to repeat appearances before the
State Board of Education and, in 1996, he was elected to
represent Denver as the board's sole Democrat.
His father's tenure as a Protestant state senator in largely
Catholic Ireland helped prepare him for being in the minority on
various issues. But few of his board battles have been as
contentious as the ongoing fight over Amendment 31.
"I have bruises and scars from what I see as the twilight of the
bilingual wars," Stanford said, noting his pro-31 opponents have
been "very personal and very vindictive" in public debate.
Back at the Sloans Lake community center, he's winding up what's
turning out to be a relatively easy evening. No opponents have
turned up and the audience is attentive.
"It is too costly, it is too punitive, it is too restrictive," Stanford
says of Amendment 31.
There's applause, and the next speaker walks to the front and
sighs: "It's very difficult to follow Gully."
mitchelln@RockyMountain News.com (303) 892-5245.