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The Arizona education wars are turning into a series of Republican-on-Republican, tag team cage fighting matches. The whole thing is getting pretty ugly. That's what cage fighting is all about, of course, getting ugly; that's its allure. Me, I don't watch the sweaty-body grappling on cable TV, but I'm a big fan of the political variety, especially when the fighting is between the couldn't-happen-to-a-more-deserving-group-of-folks Republicans, in or out of office. The "Trump vs. The Field" primaries, the Phoenix skirmishes . . . pass the popcorn, hon, this is really good.
Ed Supe Diane Douglas' antics, mainly directed at the state school board, have been the main source of jibes and jokes in the media. She's a novice who says and does silly stuff in her pursuit of her education agenda, throwing tantrums, suing the board and seeing if she can win by taking her marbles, or her websites, and going home. That all makes for easy, eye-rolling commentary. It also makes people forget that, since she took office, Douglas has made some of the most sensible statements about education coming from a Republican in a long time, including a school funding plan that's head-and-shoulders above any other AZ Republican proposal I've heard, maybe ever. Much as people like to say she's harming our schools, so far as I can tell, she isn't. Maybe she will in the future, it's certainly possible, but not yet. She's gumming up the privatization works a bit and giving the state board fits, but I haven't seen how it has hurt kids in a way that's comparable to, say, the legislative cuts to education which have been going on for years or Huppenthal's vendetta against TUSD's Mexican American Studies program.
Douglas is an easy target, a side show, a distraction, but Doug Ducey is the big dog. While he smiles and keeps his hands clean, his political friends attack, sometimes in the light of day, sometimes leaping out of dark alleys. Ducey does not like to be challenged. His dark money henchman, Sean Noble, went after Mesa Superintendent Michael Cowan when he wouldn't behave. These days, Ducey's target is state treasurer James DeWit, who opposes Ducey's plan to tap into state land trust funds and is being ostracized and trashed by Ducey and his surrogates. My favorite surrogate attack
was on the breibart.com website, written by Lisa de Pasquale. To put her comments in context, she calls Ann Coulter her mentor, loves Scott Walker and calls Ducey "the Walker of the West." De Pasquale accuses DeWit of "throwing a bureaucratic hissy fit" and "sid[ing] with unions and liberals." The graphic in the article portraying DeWit as Doctor Evil "HOLDING ARIZONA KIDS RANSOM FOR $2 BILLION!" is worth the price of admission.
But then again, DeWit hasn't exactly taken the high ground. While attacking Ducey's education plan, he said during a recent presentation, according to the Republic's Laurie Roberts
, “cleaning up all the misinformation the Governor’s Office keeps putting out about this plan is like following around a dog with diarrhea. It doesn’t stop.” Not even the dog diarrhea reference can stop me from grabbing for another handful of popcorn.
Roberts says DeWit told her, referring to Ducey and his crowd:
“They’re not good guys. That’s the part I’m realizing. Some of the stuff I’m starting to see is they’re just not good people and they’re not honest people and they’re not moral people."
Right now, the biggest political story in the state is education funding. The fact that there are three—count them, three—Republican proposals to increase funding shows how the public tide has turned against the way the state has starved our schools. Two of the plans, from the governor and the legislative leaders, are stalls. Only Douglas' "AZ Kids Can't Afford to Wait!" plan addresses the immediacy of the problem. But Ducey holds all the cards since he has the dark money and other powerful forces behind him, and he likes to win—pretty or ugly, he doesn't really care. The other two are depending on rounding up enough legislative and popular support to push back against Ducey. Maybe Ducey will piss off the wrong people and they'll start going after him the way he goes after his enemies, and his brand will be tarnished. We'll have to keep watching. We're still in the early rounds of the fight, and so far there have been blows struck but no clear winners and losers. It's already good viewing, and it's just getting going. Stay tuned.