- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - It is a race that has been seemingly flipped on its head: Traditional Republican groups are supporting the Democrat in the campaign for Arizona’s top education official.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate David Garcia is the first Democrat to earn the backing of the traditionally conservative Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2006. The group made the endorsement because it found the views of the Republican candidate extreme. Republican Diane Douglas has unabashedly run a one-issue campaign: Outlaw Common Core standards.

Garcia said he has reached out to Republicans, but many of his endorsements came from GOP members who already knew him and had worked with him. The former state associate superintendent has previously served in two GOP administrations and secured the endorsement of two Republicans who previously served as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“Education is an issue that really shouldn’t be political,” Garcia said. “Many of the folks who have come forward, they know me. They have worked with me and understand what I can do in terms of getting things done and are jumping on board because of my track record and my reputation.”

Still, Douglas could ride enough GOP support to a win in the conservative-leaning state. Doug Ducey, the Republican nominee for governor, has thrown his name behind her. Douglas has said Garcia’s endorsements show she is the only candidate who wants Arizona to dismiss Common Core.

“It’s no surprise that these three educational insiders from the past support greater federal interference into Arizona’s schools,” Douglas said in a Sept. 4 email. “I am the only candidate who supports high-quality, state-controlled standards for our students.”

Douglas did not respond to repeated interview requests from The Associated Press, but campaign spokeswoman Sandra Dowling said Friday that “there are plenty of documentations to completely validate Diane Douglas’ position on Common Core.”

Douglas soundly defeated Superintendent John Huppenthal in the August primary. Since then, she and Garcia have only met once at a televised debate Sept. 25. The former Peoria school board member said tracking students with federally driven education standards was akin to Communist China.

“The issue of this debate, this election, is who controls the education of our children,” she said during the debate. “Is it the Washington insiders and special interests of corporate America, or is it the parents of Arizona?”

Garcia said he supports Common Core as a way for schools to benchmark themselves relative to other schools nationwide. Having academic standards of what students should know at every grade level is nothing new, he added.

“The reality is if Common Core or if her portrayal of Common Core was correct, I would be against it too,” Garcia said. “It is not a federal takeover. It’s not a communist plot.”

Douglas has also come under fire for not making herself available to the public during the campaign. Most of her appearances and interviews have been on conservative media and at tea party events.

According to Garcia, Douglas has refused 16 opportunities for them to discuss issues in front of teachers and parents.

“I think it’s because she really doesn’t have any answers. She’s got a mantra: Stop Common Core,” Garcia said.

Dowling, a former Maricopa County school superintendent, said Douglas has her own campaign agenda that does not require following Garcia.

Garcia said he has far more experience as an educator and working with the Arizona Legislature. If he gets elected, he plans to focus on issues such as a statewide teacher shortage and investing more funding in public schools.

Dowling said Douglas is the one with more experience. If elected, she plans to focus on school finance and student achievement.

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