Diane Douglas, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, ran as a Tea Party candidate. The banner headline on the first incarnation of her campaign website read, "Kill Common Core." Not "Stop Common Core." Not "End Common Core." "Kill Common Core." With an over-the-top opening line like that and her conservative educational track record as a school board member in Peoria, nothing awful she might have done when she was elected would have surprised me. The surprise for me has been, she's done a pretty good job so far. She's gotten into knock-down, drag-out cage match battles with the governor and the state Board of Education in an attempt to assert her authority, which have been a whole lot of fun to watch, but when it comes to the schools themselves, she's mainly taken a moderate, "First do no harm" approach. She has toured the state in a genuine effort to understand the needs of parents and teachers and has put forward thoughtful suggestions for improvement. I had a chance to talk with Douglas during her most recent Tucson event and was impressed by her sincerity and her commitment to serving the state's school-aged children. She wasn't my first choice for Ed Supe and still isn't, but I'll take her over the two previous superintendents, Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, as well as most any other Republican who might occupy the office. She's been a thoughtful, independent voice for education who has avoided ideologically-based stances and has stood up to the state's Republican establishment.
When Douglas put out a press release saying she's endorsing Donald Trump after attending his xenophobia-fueled immigration speech last Wednesday, I wasn't surprised. Trump's hair-on-fire rhetoric and simplistic, draconian "solutions" to complex problems are right in her Tea Party wheelhouse, so Douglas must feel right at home with the Republican presidential candidate.
What concerns me is the fact that she took a public stand on Trump at all. So far as I remember, she stayed out of the Prop 123 controversy, even though the fate of the proposition had a direct impact on the schools she oversees. Yet when it comes to Trump, she not only gave him her unqualified endorsement, but did it in her official capacity with a news release on the state email system, which may have been illegal.
Is Trump's election really so important to Douglas that she feels the need to make a public, official endorsement? Or—and this is what most worries me—is her very public endorsement a signal that she's cozying up to Governor Ducey, who is such a strong Trump supporter he introduced the candidate at the Wednesday rally? Ducey is getting ready to revamp the way the state allocates education dollars with his Classrooms First Initiative, and if he gets his way, charter schools across the state as well as school districts in high rent areas will benefit. He could use Douglas as an ally, but in the past she criticized his charter-centric attitude, and she launched the Zip Code Project whose goal is to help educationally disconnected youth to succeed. If she stays true to form, she should be exposing Ducey's funding priorities, fighting against them actively and publicly, but I don't recall hearing public statements from her on the subject.
Ducey gave Douglas the head of Arizona Board of Education President Greg Miller on a platter when the governor forced him off the board. That was a win for Douglas, who locked horns with Miller on a regular basis. Was there a quid pro quo involved, where Ducey gave Douglas something she wanted and she plans to give him her support, or her silence, on his educational priorities in return? That would certainly help Ducey win the support for his educational agenda from the far right, who like the Ed Supe more than they like the governor.
Ducey and his cronies are skilled deal makers, while Douglas is still a political naif without a politically savvy staff to advise her. She could be cajoled and co-opted by Ducey and his crowd into "compromising" with them without getting anything substantive—anything that would genuinely help the majority of Arizona's school children—in return. That would make his life a whole lot easier, but it would be a betrayal by Douglas of Arizona's most vulnerable children.