One of Arizona’s most closely-watched races Tuesday will be the Republican primary for school superintendent, a key test of strength for the rising Republican opposition to Common Core education standards.
The challenger, Diane Douglas, is a diehard opponent of Common Core and has made her opposition to the standards the primary issue of her campaign.
Meanwhile, the incumbent, John Huppenthal, presents a particularly vulnerable target. Over the summer, Huppenthal was embroiled in controversy after he admitted to posting inflammatory anonymous remarks on several Internet blogs. Among other comments, Huppenthal referred to people on public assistance as “lazy pigs” and compared Planned Parenthood founder Margarent Sanger to Adolf Hitler. Huppenthal gave a tearful apology but defied calls that he resign or stop seeking a second term.
Huppenthal has also faced criticism from all sides for his handling of Common Core. He once unconditionally embraced the standards and described critics as “barbarians at the gate,” but in the past month has made statements that appear to back off from that position. During a debate with Douglas, Huppenthal claimed “I never supported Common Core” and touted that he had removed certain objectionable books from the state’s Common Core English standards.
Subject to blistering criticism after the debate, Huppenthal attempted to clarify his statements, saying that while he supported a large portion of the standards he did not support every single aspect of them. Even though his statements bring him closer to the position of Douglas and other Common Core foes, they have attracted accusations of flip-flopping by the superintendent.
A win by Douglas would be a significant victory for Common Core opponents, although she would still have to overcome the Democratic nominee in November; both prospective candidates are Common Core supporters. While a major issue for tea party activists and other Republican diehards, Common Core opposition has had a mixed record in the 2014 primaries.
A challenge to South Dakota governor and Core supporter Dennis Daugaard never got off the ground, while efforts to toss out Alabama legislators who helped keep the Core in place there also faltered. In South Carolina and Oklahoma, Common Core foes won the Republican nominations to head the state school systems, but both states repealed Common Core through the legislature beforehand, making those victories unnecessary.
One Arizona Common Core opponent, however, says that a victory isn’t essential for resisting the standards in the Grand Canyon State.
“There are ways [in Arizona] for schools to have more autonomy over what they’re teaching,” said Goldwater Institute education expert Jonathan Butcher. However, he added that a victory in Arizona would prevent any loss of that autonomy, whose preservation he described as “very important” not merely for resisting Common Core but also for preserving several education reform efforts tied to the state’s many charter schools.
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