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Denver School Board director Auon'tai "Tay" Anderson speaks at the Colorado Organize to Win 2020 Summit on Feb. 16 at the Mercury Cafe in Denver. (Moe Clark, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Auon’tai “Tay” Anderson is dropping his reelection bid to the Denver Public Schools board in November and will instead run in 2024 for an open seat in the Colorado House of Representatives. 

“I decided after speaking with family, community and some of my colleagues on the Denver school board that we need to take the progress that we’ve made at DPS to a state level,” he said. “We need unapologetic leaders to join unapologetic leaders that we currently have in the House of Representatives.”

Anderson, who announced his plans Monday, has been at the center of several controversies on the school board. He has clashed with and drawn the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike. 

The high-profile politician’s path to remaining on the school board was uncertain as he was already facing two challengers to his at-large seat. But Anderson said he’s confident he would have won and that he’s running to replace state Rep. Leslie Herod, a term-limited Denver Democrat, in Colorado House District 8 because he feels he can have more impact in the Colorado General Assembly. 

“This is not about walking away from not being able to win again,” he said.

Anderson will face a crowded Democratic primary for the District 8 seat in northeast Denver. The Colorado Constitution requires that state representatives be at least 25 years old when they take office. Anderson turns 25 in July. 

Anderson was 21 in 2019 when he was elected to the school board. His profile expanded during the protests in Denver following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, becoming the subject of local and national media stories 

But in 2021 his rise was clouded by anonymous accusations of sexual assault, claims that weren’t substantied by a third-party investigation. However, he was censured by the school board  for flirting online with a 16-year-old DPS student before he knew her age while serving on the school board. The third-party investigation said there was “no evidence that he purposefully sought out a connection with someone who is underage.”  

The censure was also prompted by social media posts from Anderson that the investigator said “could reasonably have been interpreted as coercive or intimidating.”

More recently, Anderson and DPS have faced criticism after a student shot two administrators at East High School in March. Anderson was part of a unanimous 2020 DPS board vote to remove school resource officers from schools. The district is now being sued by several media organizations seeking the release of recordings of a closed meeting on school safety after the shooting. In response to the shooting, some parents have called for the entire DPS board to resign

“Everybody’s not gonna like me, and I’m OK with that,” he said. “My track record on the (Denver Public Schools board) brings results, and our community sees those results. I definitely took accountability when there were gaps in my leadership. I’m grateful that even after all of that, the (DPS board) entrusted me to serve as their vice president. I never stopped advocating for our children.”

Anderson said he’s proud of his work on the school board promoting Black excellence and LGBT inclusivity and raising the minimum wage for the district’s workers.

If elected to the Colorado House, Anderson, who once worked as a legislative aide, said he will remain focused on education issues but also try to protect workers rights, let local governments enact rent-control policies and enshrine abortion access in the Colorado constitution. He also wants to raise Colorado’s minimum wage to $20 an hour and pass more gun regulations, including a ban on so-called assault weapons.  

Anderson begins his statehouse bid with a slate of endorsements, including from state Rep. Regina English, D-Colorado Springs; University of Colorado Regent Wanda James; and former state Sen. Andy Kerr. He said he’s working to secure support from more incumbent state lawmakers. 

House District 8 is solidly Democratic and whoever wins the primary next spring should cruise to victory in the general election. Three other Democratic candidates have already filed to run for the seat:

  • Victor Bencomo, a Latino veteran and activist who is endorsed by Giffords, a national group that pushes for gun violence prevention measures
  • Sharron Pettiford, a labor activist who is also a Denver NAACP officer
  • Lindsay Gilchrist, a public policy consultant and foster/adoptive parent, who worked for the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat

Herod has not endorsed a successor. 

Anderson has about $4,500 in his school board campaign account after spending $30,000 since his 2019 run. 

Two candidates have filed to run for Anderson’s Denver Public Schools seat: Tattered Cover owner Kwame Spearman, who abandoned his Denver mayoral bid before the city’s April municipal election; and Paul Ballenger, a Marine veteran who has operated a security firm.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...