by David Safier
Last week, John Huppenthal and his Republican primary opponent Diane Douglas had a televised debate on PBS. If it weren't for Huppenthal's responses to questions about his notorious blog commenting, the only statement that might be interesting to people who aren't education wonks came near the end when Douglas was airing her objections to the Common Core:
It has a data collection system on children that rivals Communist Chinese.
If Douglas makes it to the general, the Communist Chinese comment will be part of the political conversation, guaranteed.
But really, it was Huppenthal's dodging and weaving about his blog commenting and about a jaw-droppingly inappropriate statement by one of his employees that made the whole thing interesting. Let me summarize what I heard him saying.
Huppenthal defended his right to use "sway-do-nyms" — that's how he pronounced "pseudonyms," not once, but three times, enunciating very carefully each time — as if what upset people about his comments was that he made them anonymously, not what he actually said.
However, he did admit he used "language that got a little bit tough." Really, though, it was no more than a "harshly stated" way of "getting facts into the public discourse." Still, he said, "I've apologized for that, and I've sought counsel about it."
"Sought counsel"? In the context of his statement, it sounds like Huppenthal is saying he sought spiritual or psychological advice from a counselor of some kind. But out of context, "sought counsel" could just as easily mean he went to a lawyer to find out if he was in any legal trouble. Since Huppenthal is a master of random, disassociated comments, it's not clear exactly what he meant by "sought counsel."
However, Huppenthal's answer in the debate left no doubt about one thing. When he referred to people on public assistance as lazy pigs, said TUSD's Mexican American Studies program was the equivalent of the KKK and called the MAS teachers skinheads, that was nothing more than "language that got a little bit tough," a "harshly stated" way of "getting facts into the public discourse." He doesn't "renounce and repudiate" the meaning of what he said, just the tough, harsh way he said it.
Here's the full text of Huppenthal's comment when Douglas challenged him about his comments.
"Hold on. Our Founding Fathers, we went back and we looked at sway-do-nyms they were using. There were over 32 sway-do-nyms our Founding Fathers used, and they were very vociferous. There is a track record of sway-do-nyms in this process. Occasionally my language got a little bit tough and I've apologized for that, and I've sought counsel about it. But guess what? There's a lot of evidence for getting facts into the public discourse. I repudiated those statements that were too harsh — too harshly stated — but guess what? Public discourse and freedom of speech is part of our traditions."
The other Huppenthal highlight was when he spoke about a Department of Education employee who wrote an email calling a teacher who spoke out against the Common Core a "f*cktard." According to Huppenthal, "So in an internal email, one of my employees went a little bit overboard."
I imagine Huppenthal will be out in public again before the primary and someone will ask him, again, about his prolific blog commenting. It'll be interesting to hear how he spins things next time.