Raising Arizona: Voters Agree with Incoming Superintendent Diane Douglas that Parents, Not the State, Are Primary in Education

It’s true: Arizona’s incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas did run on a single issue—and to a majority of voters, it was the only education issue that mattered: children are not creatures of the state.

First, some background. Douglas made national headlines for her unwavering opposition to Common Core national standards. Her opponent, Democratic candidate David Garcia, was endorsed by several powerful heavy-hitters from both sides of the aisle, including:

To say Douglas’s campaign was modest would be an understatement. Phoenix-area KTAR News reported, “Douglas ran a low-key campaign in which she largely avoided public events in favor of tea-party gatherings and conservative talk radio interviews.” Even Diane Ravitch took time to comment about Douglas’ low-profile campaign by quoting a local blogger who wrote, “Douglas ran no campaign that I could see. I never saw a sign, never saw a TV ad.

Yet Douglas still won by more than 16,000 votes (here, p. 11) even though her campaign was outspent by Garcia’s by 8 to one (here at 1.17 minutes).

Douglas successfully weathered especially nasty opposition campaigns—both the primary and the general—and won fair and square. But some people want the fight to continue. As the Glendale Star reports:

Douglas, who served 10 years on the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board [one of the largest districts in the state], is due to take office next month, and per Arizona law, cannot be recalled until she has been in office six moths [sic].

A group has formed a political action committee (PAC) to begin organizing and preparing to gather the minimum 364,000 signatures of registered Arizona voters to force a recall election.

“We formed this PAC so we were able to start organizing and getting volunteers ready,” said Anthony Espinoza, who registered the Coalition to Recall Diane Douglas PAC. “We are teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens who are worried that our school system will lack to improve under Douglas.”

Sounds pretty ominous, but it turns out that Espinoza’s “coalition” is actually more of a two-man show (see here, here, here, and here).

Mainstream media in Arizona is finally catching on—thanks in no small part to the work of citizen journalists statewide who first began shining a light on the so-called “coalition.”

Earlier this week the local Phoenix-area NBC affiliate together with the Arizona Republic’s azcentral.com reported, as Douglas herself put it, “There is no recall.” There is a Facebook page and a Twitter feed with some 230 followers. Along with Espinoza, Max Goshert is coalition treasurer and explains (starting at 1.04 minutes):

We believe that a lot of people who voted did not necessarily know everything about Diane Douglas.

Actually, voters knew all they needed to know and cast their ballots accordingly.

The general election kicked off in late August, with Douglas winning a major upset against Republican incumbent and Common Core proponent John Huppenthal (see here and here), which by itself garnered significant media attention, such as this interview from the local Phoenix-area CBS affiliate with Douglas after her primary victory:

“That’s my work — to get our education system turned back to parents, moms, dads, teachers,” Douglas told CBS 5 News after her nomination. “Get it out of Washington and get it our [sic] of the hands of a few privileged corporations because it never belonged there in the first place.” Douglas has previously served on the Peoria Unified School District governing board and was board president in 2008 and 2009.

Seems pretty clear to this Arizona voter.

It’s more likely that what Goshert meant to say was something along these lines: Arizona voters should have followed the “wisdom” of the political insiders and media elite. The fact that a majority of us didn’t must indicate that we’re somehow confused and need to be re-educated.

Rather than running a non-recall recall campaign post-election, perhaps Espinoza, Goshert, and others unhappy with the election results should have taken to Twitter and Facebook or gone old-school and walked neighborhoods door-to-door pre-election to help with voter turnout—which was a dismal 27 percent in the primary and less than 50 percent (47 percent) in the general election—even lower in the state’s two largest counties where many of the political power brokers reside (p. 1).

The fact that they didn’t suggests a smug sense of complacency and a disdain for grassroots voters who are highly motivated by the issues of parental choice and local control in education—and are frankly sick to death of candidates on both sides of the aisle running on platforms that amount to little more than this:

  • We’re the education experts (not parents).
  • Hand over more money, and we’ll “fix” public schools (in part by minimizing competition from other education options).
  • We’ll also work more closely with Washington (because the state lawmakers you people elected just aren’t up to the task.)

In the end, Douglas’s victory upsets the Arizona establishment’s apple cart. By opposing Common Core and winning, Douglas reveals the cracks in the state power brokers’ ability to sway public opinion—a glaring weakness at a time when nationally Common Core’s popularity is tanking, and with it, the aspirations of those who perhaps hoped to ride the national standards wave all the way to Washington in 2016.

Sadly, high-profile Garcia supporters such as Keegan and Molera, who were instrumental in implementing and advancing Arizona’s numerous private– and public-school parental choice programs, believed backing a pro-Common Core candidate took priority over what had been in the past a primary issue for them.

When asked during a PBS interview nearly two years ago whether “Arizona’s too gung ho…on school choice?” (starting at 0.52 minutes and again at 4.24), Garcia made a contradictory argument that parents aren’t rational consumers in a traditional market sense (because some parents keep their kids in failing schools out of a sense of “community”) but later acknowledged that many school leaders have told him that, in response to low grades under the state’s current accountability system, they’re losing lots of students because parents are transferring them to schools with better grades (so parents are rational by acting in their children’s best interest).

An exhausting response to a very simple question—one might say by design. Rather than just say Arizona parents have enough options already, Garcia apparently didn’t want to alienate himself from parental choice backers or the public schooling establishment—so he took the winding, well-trodden middle road to nowhere instead.

And that’s not where Arizona voters and parents want themselves or their children to be.

In the end, Arizona’s Superintendent’s race boiled down to whether or not children are creatures of the state.  Of course, no political candidate or supporter—certainly not in the state of Arizona—wants to be associated with the affirmative position. So instead, they changed the terms of the debate. As the Arizona Republic concluded in its gushing Garcia endorsement:

Garcia served in the Department of Education under two Republican superintendents, Lisa Graham Keegan and Jaime Molera. He knows how to get along.

In the end, Douglas knew how to get along better—with the majority of voters who elected her because they agreed that children aren’t creatures of the state.

Douglas won’t assume office for several weeks, but after months of accusations that her views on education are “extreme,” a retort made by another Arizona elected official some 50 years ago came to mind:

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice… and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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