Wow: The normally staid and predictable mud-wrestle for the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction job has gotten downright bizarre.
Thank incumbent superintendent John Huppenthal for going all out to turn what should have been his walk-away bid for re-election into the strangest contest on the primary ballot.
The veteran Republican lawmaker won the seat in 2010 on a reform platform that promised accountability for public schools and more choices for parents. He served six years in the Legislature and a stint on the Chandler City Council.
Both of those issues have gone badly off track for Huppenthal — and that was even before he admitted in a tearful press conference that he made a big mistake by anonymously blogging that welfare recipients were “lazy pigs,” Charles Darwin inspired Hitler to undertake the extermination of the Jews, Franklin Roosevelt’s effort to get us out of the Great Depression gave rise to the Nazis, and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was assigned the job of aborting as many black babies as possible. Those gems all emerged from years of blog postings under the monikers of Falcon9 and Thucydides.
Last week, he tearfully apologized for a lapse in judgment caused by his passion for public policy debates, but refused to drop his campaign for re-election. He said he didn’t think the dustup will hurt his re-election chances.
He’s already facing a challenge in the Republican primary from former Peoria School Board member and accountant Diane Douglas. She has made several appearances in Rim Country, including the recent Republican picnic in Rumsey Park. She has so far run a one-issue campaign based on Huppenthal’s support for Arizona’s adoption of federal standards included in Common Core. She argues that the standards intended to provide a national baseline and emphasis on critical thinking skills represents a federal takeover of schools.
Huppenthal has supported the standards and the millions in federal grants offered to implement them, but a growing number of Republicans have turned against those federal curriculum guides and the accompanying emphasis on standardized tests.
States that have already implemented the standards often report disastrous failure rates.
The increasingly bitter primary fight promised to damage Huppenthal’s general election prospects even before the entertaining sideshow about Huppenthal’s addiction to weird Hitler/Nazi/ Holocaust analogies.
Mind you, the invoking Hitler had proved irresistible to all sorts of politicians: Witness the mini-furor that followed Rep. Brenda Barton’s social media comparisons between President Barack Obama and Hitler based on proposed environmental regulations.
If Huppenthal staggers through the primary and emerges damaged, Democrat David Garcia hopes to take advantage of the opportunity.
An Arizona State University associate professor, Garcia is campaigning for the Democratic nomination against school teacher Sharon Thomas. Garcia and Thomas have both made repeated appearances in Payson.
Garcia specializes in analyzing school performance and evaluation of things like standardized test scores in his research at the university. He has also served as associate superintendent of education at the state level and worked as a policy analyst on education issues for the Legislature. So he brings considerable sophistication to the task of education reform and figuring out how to apply Common Core standards without all the pitfalls of over-reliance on standardized testing revealed by Arizona’s previous plunge down the rabbit hole of the AIMS graduation test.
Garcia pounced on Huppenthal’s blogger confessions by reminding voters of Huppenthal’s last stumble out the starting gate. Huppenthal recorded a message used in robo calls to call the attention of parents to the existence of a state program that would provide direct payments to parents who took their children out of public schools and enrolled them in private schools.
“Four months ago, Mr. Huppenthal used his position as state superintendent to make robocalls on behalf of private school vouchers, encouraging public school parents to send their children to private schools. Now, we learn he is using department of education computers to troll blogs, using language unfit for an elected official and unfit for someone in charge of our children’s education. As the parent of public school students, I find this behavior disturbing and believe it has distracted the superintendent from dealing with serious issues facing our public schools. This serves as yet another reason why we need a qualified educator, not a politician, running our schools,” wrote Garcia in a press release reaction.
Huppenthal did his best to ignore the swirl of speculation about whether he was the provocative blogger in question before his odd press conference last week.
Some of the blogged comments include the following. The parenthesis were included in the original blog posting:
— “Obama is rewarding the lazy pigs with food stamps (44 million people), air conditioning, free health care, flat-screen TVs (typical of ‘poor’ families).”
— “We now know that Franklin Roosevelt was almost completely responsible for the Great Depression. Only in liberal mythology did FDR ‘save’ the nation. Worse yet, Roosevelt’s disastrous economic policies drug down the whole world and directly led to the rise of a no-name hack named Adolph Hitler who was going nowhere until Germany’s economy hit the tank.”
— “It was Darwin, not Hitler, who named the Germans the master race. It was Darwin who expressed approval of eliminating both Jews and Africans. Hitler worked to eliminate the Jews. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was given the job of eliminating African-Americans. Hitler fed 6 million Jews into the ovens. Sanger has fed 16 million African-Americans into the abortion mills.”
— There is no aspect of Child Protective Service. No correlation between spending on CPS and child safety. The only factors which provide safety for children are employment of parents and good schools on the positive side and welfare enrollment on the negative side.”
So give Huppenthal credit for elevating the visibility of one of the most crucial statewide offices, which normally gets almost no coverage at all during an election.
Of course, in a state ranked dead-last for per-student funding where the Legislature has all but eliminated money for school facilities, one could think of some real issues to debate.
But hey, at least now maybe the voters won’t still say Huppen who?