PHOENIX — Arizona public education has a new leader after it was announced Nov. 9 that Republican Diane Douglas won the state’s general election after a close race with Democratic candidate David Garcia.
Garcia could not overcome her advantage as late ballots were counted through the week. His campaign did not want to comment Sunday, said the Associated Press.
Douglas, a former Peoria Unified School District board member, defeated Garcia, an associate professor of education at Arizona State University.
The race centered on the controversial Common Core standards in schools, something Douglas promised to repeal and Garcia promised to uphold.
Douglas unabashedly ran on the single issue of abolishing Common Core, losing the backing of the Republican establishment as a result and drawing the ire of business leaders who were worried that such an action would send a bad message about Arizona.
She was unable to secure endorsements from traditional Republican groups like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry but benefited from a big night for Republicans in Arizona and nationally as anti-Obama administration sentiment swept through the country.
Douglas said the education standards amount to federal government overreach and they need to be stopped immediately. The issue worked in her favor during the primary when she toppled incumbent John Huppenthal, who stumbled through an error-prone campaign.
Douglas said the main issues of the election are who has power over the education of Arizona students and forcing children to conform to a one-size-fits-all set of standards.
“We have standards now that we can’t control, we can’t change and we can’t make sure that they work for Arizona,” said Douglas, who didn’t respond to an interview request. “That is a huge problem for Arizona education.”
Garcia was the polar opposite of Douglas.
“Stopping the Common Core means we take a step backwards,” Garcia said. “We need to continue to move forward; that is what we do in education.”
Garcia said that voters are largely unfamiliar with the Common Core as an issue.
“It’s become kind of a tag line and a source of fear, particularly for my opponent,” he said. “Even other Republicans aren’t out there pushing for stopping the Common Core in the way that she is. I think that the opening is there because most folks don’t understand what it is.”
Garcia is an Army veteran who has a lengthy background in education. He said politicians on the right like Douglas are demonizing standards that simply outline what students need to know at the end of each grade level.
Douglas ran a low-key campaign in which she largely avoided public events in favor of tea-party gatherings and conservative talk radio interviews.
The Associated Press and Cronkite News Service’s Alexa Armstrong contributed to this report.