After Tense Week, Arizona’s Douglas Prevails in Superintendent Race

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After nearly a week of close tallies and uncertainty, Republican Diane Douglas has prevailed over Democratic rival David Garcia to become Arizona’s next Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Most Americans are calming down now that the mid-term elections have come and gone and are figuring out how to get down to business. Not in Arizona, however, where the winner of the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction took almost a week to be determined.

The race was just too close to call. Republican Diane Douglas led over Democrat David Garcia by a 50% to 49% margin, and ballots remained to be counted until the weekend. KOLD-TV reported that Douglas made it known that she would repeal the Common Core standards if she takes office, so the stakes were high.

“I believe in the parents directing the education of their children. We need high standards. Of course, there is no debate about that, but it’s a matter of who controls those standards.”  

David Garcia had his own take on educating Arizona’s children.

“My vision for our public schools, is that instead of focusing exclusively on multiple choice tests, we are going to measure things that matter, outcomes that make a difference.”

Arizona renamed the Common Core, after tweaking it, to the College and Career Ready Standards that were then adopted in 2010. The new standards veer away from multiple-choice tests and more toward critical thinking skills, according to Fernanda Echavarri of Arizona Public Media.

Douglas was on her way to a win like so many other Republicans in the races for top offices this election cycle. But she had remained low profile during the race while Garcia gained support from business groups and several well-known Republicans. After midnight on the day of the election, Douglas said that she was “cautiously optimistic”, and was encouraged that Arizona voters were behind her in her opposition to the Common Core. The Arizona Republic‘s Mary Beth Faller reports that Stan Barnes, a Republican political consultant, commented that Douglas probably benefited from the tilt toward Republicans by voters.

“I think she was the chief beneficiary of the rout that took place yesterday and that the Common Core aspects of her campaign were less important than the bigger variables of angry voters, Republican turnout and general dislike of Democrats at the polling place yesterday,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Douglas’ opponent in the Republican primary, incumbent John Huppenthal, had championed the Common Core during his term, but posted anonymous blog posts that called welfare recipients “lazy pigs” and other harsh remarks. Prior to her run for this office, Douglas, 58, was a member of the Peoria Unified School District governing board. Garcia, 44, is an associate professor of education at Arizona State University.

Some are asking if Douglas can eliminate the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. The answer is that she cannot, since the superintendent implements policies that have been approved by the State Board of Education. The superintendent is one of the board’s 11 members, but she would have just one vote.

“Regardless of who is the superintendent, the fact remains that it is the State Board of Education’s role in what the state standards are going to be,” said Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute, a right wing group that advocates for limited government. “It is not as though any superintendent could simply flip a switch when they walk in and Common Core would disappear.”

Still, as superintendent, Douglas will likely influence legislators, who are able to step in to make the final judgement.

It is not clear what the new Republican Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, will do about the Common Core. In an interview with The Arizona Republic, he commented that while standards are imperative:

“Ideally, such standards should come from the state itself and not be imposed top-down from Washington.”

Chris Thomas, the Arizona School Boards Association’s director of legal and policy services and general counsel, said that much money and time had been invested in preparing for the Common Core standards. He believes it would be disruptive to stop the process in midstream.