We have a collision coming in our state elections. The until-now irresistible force of the #RedforEd movement with meet a usually immovable object, the anti-tax, anti-public school Republican party. Something's gotta give.
Before we look at Arizona, let's take a trip to Oklahoma, a state that hates taxes as much as Arizona—it hadn't passed a new tax in 30 years—and has cut school funding as drastically as we have. In March, its state Senate pulled together the needed three-quarters majority to pass a tax hike. The result was a substantial raise for Oklahoma teachers whose pay, like Arizona's teachers, is near the bottom of the national heap. But like the teacher salary hike the legislature passed in Arizona, Oklahoma's barely moved the salary needle compared to other states, so
teachers weren't happy with the outcome. They staged a nine day walkout in April. They gained a lot of attention, but no more money for their efforts.
Oklahoma held its primary Tuesday. How did the voters react to having their taxes raised and watching the never-satisfied teachers demand more, more, more? They probably turned on the teachers, right? Wrong. The opposite happened.
Over a hundred educators ran for office, from both parties. Dozens either won their primaries outright or made it into a runoff. One of the runoffs is between two Democratic educators.
Back in March when the tax hike bill was in the legislature, ten House Republicans voted against it. Two of them lost their primaries outright. Seven others face runoffs. Remember, these are Republican incumbents in a state that hasn't voted for a tax hike in three decades, yet voting against the increase was a losing issue for them.
What should Arizona's state candidates learn from the Oklahoma primaries? That #RedforEd is alive and well, and Arizona may vote more than ever with students and teachers, and less than usual with candidates who push an anti-tax, anti-public school agenda. Voters may be ready for a few more Democrats in the legislature and in statewide offices. Who knows, they may even vote for a tax increase.
It's worth remembering, two years ago Trump only won Arizona by four points. It was a purple presidential election. Arizona isn't a guaranteed red state these days.
Ducey understands all this. He and his advisors are nothing if not politically savvy. So he's taken his "I love public school children and teachers" tour on the road. That's pretty much all he talks about, how great our schools are, how our teachers deserve more money, how nothing is more important than investing in our kids. When he's not talking about raising school funding, he's touting his plan to make schools safer. (His plan was weak enough to get NRA approval, but still too strong for Republican legislators to support, so it didn't pass.)
Where is all the Republican talk I'm used to hearing every election cylce about incompetent teachers and failing public schools? Where is the praise for charter schools and private school vouchers? It's nowhere to be found. Ducey knows voters don't want to hear that old anti-public school drumbeat this year.
If we had truth in advertising laws, Ducey's slogan would have to be, "Vote for me! I'm almost as good as a Democrat on education."
We don't know how many Republican state candidates will ride Ducey's "education governor" coattails. But we do know most Democratic candidates are embracing the #RedforEd movement.
On the tax front, we'll soon find out if the Invest in Education supporters have gathered enough signatures to make it on the ballot. The organizers are cautiously optimistic. If the measure makes the cut, will it pass in November? One thing that's certain, the campaign against it is going to be fierce and well funded. But voters have been telling pollsters for years, they want to increase spending on education, and they're willing to raise taxes to do it. Their vote will be easier because most of them won't feel the bite. Only people with incomes over $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for couples will pay more. That's taxable income we're talking about, meaning earned income will have to be close to twice that much before someone pays a penny in added tax.
Will 99 percent of voters take pity on the one percenters, or will they vote for school children and teachers?
A new study compares Arizona's poverty levels to the rest of the country. Not only do we have a very high poverty rate, but we're slipping compared to other states. It's not just family income that's low. We have 10 percent fewer children in early childhood education, meaning too many children who are most in need of educational enrichment before they begin kindergarten aren't getting it. Facts like that may lead voters to decide that the richest among us can afford to pay a little more to help out all our children, including the poorest among us.
A Wet-Finger-In-The-Wind Extra:
Republicans, Ducey included, would love to change the subject from education to immigration. Fear of brown people has been a winning campaign issue here before. But this year, the public sentiment surrounding immigration is a moving target. It's impossible to guage where it will land by election day. When Ducey isn't out campaigning, he's holding a wet finger out his office window, hoping to figure out which way the immigration winds are blowing.