The defeat of Arizona’s incumbent superintendent was a notable victory for the rising Republican opposition to Common Core education standards.
John Huppenthal, in office since 2011, had been a committed defender of the controversial math and English standards, and last May described opponents as “barbarians at the gate.” However, in the Republican primary he was routed by challenger Diane Douglas, who earned over 57 percent of the vote to Huppenthal’s 42 percent.
Douglas has run a campaign almost exclusively focused on Common Core, which she has labeled a federal takeover of the education system. Her victory is one of the greatest electoral successes of the 2014 primary season for Common Core opponents, as previous efforts to turn out incumbents in states such as Alabama and South Dakota failed to take off.
Douglas will now face off in November against Democratic primary winner David Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University. Garcia has expressed support for Common Core, and has already begun to attack Douglas as a single-issue candidate without the needed experience in education policy. Douglas has previous served on the board of directors for schools in Peoria, Arizona, a large suburb of Phoenix.
Douglas told a local news station following her victory that her ultimate goal was simple: “[T]o get our education system turned back to parents, moms, dads, teachers…[and] out of the hands of a few privileged corporations because it never belonged there in the first place.”
Even if Douglas wins, Common Core will not necessarily be repealed in the Grand Canyon state. The superintendent shares the responsibility of crafting standards with the state legislature, as well as the governor and the state board of education. Nonetheless, should she win it would represent a strong repudiation of Common Core by Arizona’s voters.
Supporters of Common Core will not have to look hard for an alternative explanation of Huppenthal’s collapse. The defeated superintendent had been weakened over the summer by his own personal scandal.
In June, he was revealed to have made controversial anonymous remarks on Internet blogs, referring to welfare recipients as “lazy pigs” and comparing Planned Parenthood cofounder Margaret Sanger to Adolf Hitler. Huppenthal also attacked Spanish-language media, saying “This is America, speak English.” Huppenthal made a tearful apology for his remarks but refused to abandon his quest for reelection.
However, when conceding the race, Huppenthal preferred to put the blame on Common Core.
“It swamped all those other things,” he said Tuesday night.
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