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Two politically-experienced challengers announce run for Arizona schools chief

Former Arizona Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, left, and Former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs. (Facebook and Wikimedia photos)

PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas will officially have at least two challengers with political know-how in the 2018 election.

Former Arizona Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, a Democrat, confirmed on Tuesday that he will be running for office in an effort to unseat Douglas.

Former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs, a Republican, also announced his bid for the seat on Tuesday. He joins Peoria resident Tracy Livingston in challenging Douglas in next year’s GOP primary.

Glendale resident Kathy Hoffman has already announced her plan to run for the Democratic nomination.

In a statement, Schapira called the state’s education system a “crisis” because “our elected leaders are failing us.”

“I have spent my entire professional life as both an educator and a public education advocate because I believe education is the boot-strap by which we pull ourselves up,” the statement continued. “Educational opportunity in this country has produced innovators, leaders and visionaries who propel our nation forward.”

The statement went on to criticize Douglas for sitting “on the sidelines during her campaign, and she has done the same while in office. I will be an Arizona Superintendent who advocates for all of our students.”

Riggs focused on his efforts to transform the department in his statement, saying he intends to “make the Arizona Department of Education fully transparent, responsive and accountable to parents, educators and taxpayers, and I will demonstrate the integrity, competence and leadership we should expect from our state’s schools chief.”

“I will be a tireless advocate for a high-quality education to help every child reach their full potential, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic circumstances,” the statement continued.

Schapira announced his run during an event Tuesday afternoon, though speculation of his run started on Monday after several reports said he planned to enter the race.

But the Democrat isn’t exactly new to the political atmosphere.

He was first elected to the Arizona Legislature in 2006 as a member of the House of Representatives. He served two terms before being elected to the Senate in 2010.

During his time in the Legislature, he served on the Education Committee for six years, the Appropriations Committee for five years and the Banking and Insurance Committee for one year.

Schapira left the Legislature in 2012 to run for Congress. Though he lost in the primary to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, he was elected to the Tempe City Council in 2014. He is also a former teacher, adjunct professor at Arizona State University and Tempe Union High School District Governing Board member.

Like Schapira, Riggs can also tout political experience during his run for superintendent.

Riggs served three terms as a California representative, where he served on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and chaired its formerly-known Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families, now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee.

Riggs was initially elected to Congress in 1990. He was defeated in 1992 by Democrat Dan Hamburg but won a rematch in 1994 and won re-election in 1996.

In 2014, Riggs sought a run for Arizona governor but finished last in the Republican primary with less than five percent of the vote.

Douglas, who has not announced a re-election campaign as of Tuesday, grabbed headlines two years ago after feuds with both Gov. Doug Ducey and the state school board played out publicly.

The feuds started after Douglas fired two school board members shortly after being elected. The firings were overturned by Ducey and the pair squared off in a war of words, during which Douglas accused Ducey of refusing to take her calls and forming a shadow group — that backed Common Core — to oppose her.

Douglas and the school board sued one another over the firings. At issue was Douglas’ claim that she had the right to hire and fire board staff.

The suit was settled, but not before the Arizona Senate passed a bill to limit Douglas’ power.

Late last year, Douglas called for an additional $680 million to be pumped into the state’s schools, but the idea gained little traction in the Legislature.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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