Keith King, a Paragon of Public Service 1948-2024

Keith King, a Paragon of Public Service   1948-2024

Keith King was instrumental in co-founding Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy and then encouraged聽James Irwin Charter High School's founding families as they created JICHS.

This article was written by the Gazette Editorial Board: 2/7/24  

Keith King excelled at many endeavors. He was a devoted family man, a highly successful business entrepreneur and a prominent, elected officeholder. He served on his local school board and city council as well as in both chambers of Colorado’s Legislature, where he rose to House majority leader in 2003.

Yet, the accomplishment for which the longtime Colorado Springs lawmaker probably will be best remembered was also one for which, in a sense, he never received a single vote, a thin dime or, at first, even an accolade. It was his relentless advocacy of educational opportunity.

King, who died at 75 on Saturday, began that lifelong mission as a high school shop teacher and basketball coach. In the ensuing decades, he went on to become an architect of education reform in Colorado; a champion of charter schools and school choice; a wizard of public school finance at the Capitol; and a sage of education legislation oft-consulted by his peers.

His milestones were many. He served on the Cheyenne Mountain School Board in Colorado Springs and then co-founded and became president of the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, the first of many charter schools in which he was involved.

Between stints in the Legislature, King started Colorado Springs Early Colleges. The charter program enabled high schoolers to get college credit and job training. He followed up by starting Colorado Early Colleges in Fort Collins, Parker and Aurora. He even served as their administrator until 2018. At the Capitol, meanwhile, he piloted groundbreaking education legislation into law.

The Colorado Springs conservative Republican remained true to El Paso County’s political tilt even as he displayed an uncanny ability to work closely with politicians and policymakers of both parties and every political stripe.

Tall and physically imposing with a booming baritone, King could come across as anything but warm and cuddly. Yet, he was eminently approachable. And many fellow lawmakers and others did just that — approach him to collaborate on policy proposals.

He was a skilled negotiator who could get what he wanted yet also was willing to give to enlist support. It’s how he helped build coalitions, structure omnibus legislation or just cobble together an amendment on the fly on the House or Senate floor.

Lawmakers also reached out to him because of his extraordinary grasp of the mechanics of the legislative process and the complexities of public policy. He was a numbers cruncher who mastered budgets and absorbed data.

And then there was his passion for the principled policies he sought to advance. King was driven to build upon Colorado’s previous strides as a national forerunner in the charter school movement and other public education reforms that expanded educational options for all Colorado children, especially the neediest.

That commitment helped earn King the respect of public education advocates across the aisle.

Those who knew King well will tell you his deeply held and readily professed Christian faith, which undergirded his world view, also played a pivotal role in his willingness to reach out to others no matter where they aligned on the political spectrum.

All of which made him a true paragon for public officeholders — and a rare one.

It’s why we will find ourselves missing King all the more. He could hold fast to his beliefs and advance them — by finding common ground with politicians who otherwise were at odds with him. If only more politicos would emulate him in today’s climate of acrimony and polarization.

Our prayers and condolences go out to his wife of over a half century, Sandi, and his children, grandchildren and extended family. They can beam with pride as they reflect on Keith King’s contributions to Colorado.