National Republicans have demonized Nancy Pelosi as the "San Francisco Liberal" face of the Democratic party for years. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Maxine Waters are their latest demons of choice. The names change, but the song remains the same.
Arizona Republicans have found themselves a Democratic ogre: Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. They have launched a steady string of assaults against her, claiming she is trying to destroy the state's system of vouchers while she sexualizes school children by encouraging comprehensive sex education in schools.
There are a few reasons Arizona Republicans chose Kathy Hoffman as their Democratic bête noire.
Hoffman holds state office. That makes her visible statewide, and it also makes her especially dangerous to Republicans' stranglehold on state government. She and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are the first Democrats to hold Arizona state office since former Attorney General Terry Goddard left in 2011. Currently, Republicans only hold a slim two seat majority in the House, meaning if a single Democrat wins a Republican seat, the House is tied. A two seat Democratic swing in the Senate would tie that body as well. The threat of Arizona becoming a purple state, of Democrats having a say in what goes on, is real. Republicans hope they can hurt Democratic candidates by painting Hoffman as the dangerously radical face of the Democratic party.
Hoffman is also a threat because she is the top educator in a state where education is one of the major battlegrounds. Think RedforEd. Think the attempts by Democrats to make charter schools more transparent and accountable. Think the Republicans' recent, unsuccessful attempt to increase the number of private school vouchers. With Hoffman at the Department of Education helm, Republicans will face resistance in furthering their privatization/"education reform" agenda.
Arizona's education policies are more than a local issue. The education wars are raging nationwide, and Arizona is the tip of the privatization spear. That's why Arizona Republicans are getting a major assist from one of the country's big money conservative education organizations, the American Federation For Children, which, not coincidentally, was founded by Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
The first major attack on Hoffman was the charge that she wanted to rob Navajo children of a good education. Ten children on the Navajo Reservation have been using Arizona voucher money to attend a private school on the other side of the New Mexico border even though the money isn't supposed to be spent for out-of-state schools. Hoffman's staff noticed the problem and said the students would no longer be able to attend the school using Arizona voucher money.
"She hates vouchers!" Republicans screamed. "She wants to rob Native American children of their education!" The AFC created a video condemning Hoffman for her actions.
What the Arizona Republicans and the AFC failed to mention is that the AFC had advised the children to attend the New Mexico school, telling their parents it was OK to use their Arizona voucher money. It's part of the "Widows and Orphans Fund" strategy Republicans love to use when promoting vouchers. They say they want the vouchers to help poor children who attend "failing schools," but once vouchers are established, they expand them until millionaires' kids can attend private schools tuition-free on the taxpayer dime. In this case, the plan was to expand the use of Arizona voucher money to out-of-state schools by placing Navajo children in the New Mexico school, then asking, "Who would be so cruel as to deny these poor Native American children the right to a quality education? Let's change the law."
When Hoffman took over and her staff discovered the situation, it was a twofer for Republicans and the AFC. They got to push their out-of-state voucher plan at the same time they called Hoffman heartless.
The situation was resolved temporarily when the legislature allowed the children to continue attending the school this year and the next, giving them ample time to find another school.
Next, Republicans tore into Hoffman for the way she was administering the Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program. Parents trying to get their children into the program were put on long phone holds. Some children were denied their right to take advantage of the program. According to Republicans, it was a plot by Hoffman to cripple the ESA program. The AFC put out more anti-Hoffman videos.
Once again, an important part of the story was left out. The ESA's budget includes money earmarked for administration. This year it should be $3.6 million. Instead, the legislators gave Hoffman $1.3 million. That means the education department doesn't have enough money to administer the program effectively. Naturally there are going to be problems and delays.
Instead of giving Hoffman the rest of the money, Republicans are spending $175,000 on a state audit of the way the education department spends the administration money it receives, hoping to find problems the Republicans can blame on Hoffman. The audit is supposed to take about 9 months, which means the earliest the education department can possibly get the rest of the funds to administer the program is next July. By that time, school and the legislature will both be out of session, and legislators will be out stumping for reelection. Good luck getting any money allocated then.
The other issue being used against Hoffman is sex education. Arizona's "No Promo Homo" law, which forbade schools from teaching anything which might promote homosexuality — that pretty much meant avoiding the subject entirely — was thrown out, meaning teachers can discuss LBGTQ issues in the classroom. A number of districts have changed or are in the process of changing their sex education policies, including TUSD. Republicans want to blame "the sexualization of Arizona's school children" on Hoffman.
I expect the sex education issue to be a big deal in the upcoming legislative session and the elections. Vouchers are likely to be a battleground issue as well. And Kathy Hoffman's name will be a regular part of the Republican talking points.