Are Diane Douglas’ unexplained absences intentionally unconventional?

Gary Grado//September 15, 2014

Are Diane Douglas’ unexplained absences intentionally unconventional?

Gary Grado//September 15, 2014

Republican Diane Douglas and Democrat David Garcia will face off in the race for Arizona superintendent of public instruction.
Republican Diane Douglas and Democrat David Garcia will face off in the race for Arizona superintendent of public instruction.

The race for superintendent of public instruction so far has been one guy stumping for himself.

Democrat David Garcia’s Republican opponent, Diane Douglas, has yet to engage him in a debate. She hasn’t updated her website from her primary run nor has she done any media interviews. Her social network posts have been infrequent for someone running for a statewide office. Her most recent tweet from the campaign trail came on Sept. 6 when she posted a photo at the Chino Valley Future Farmers of America Corn Dinner.

One debate organizer, Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist with the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said Douglas was difficult to contact, not returning telephone calls and her decline of the invitation to debate came in an email from a general address for her campaign.

“Ms. Douglas is unable to attend,” the email read.

So far, Douglas has missed three debates during the general election campaign and a fourth has been postponed because she hasn’t responded.

Douglas did not return repeated requests for an interview for this story.

Douglas’ low profile could be from a lack of money and waiting for the perfect time to spend it, according to a pollster. A Republican political consultant said she might simply be running as the unconventional outsider, a tactic that worked for her in the primary election.

Republican political consultant Stan Barnes said from the outside looking in it appears Douglas’ campaign has decided it is a waste of time to engage her opponent and the press, which might work with a down-ballot race, an uninformed electorate and a Republican registration advantage.

Barnes, who is not associated with the Douglas campaign, said rejecting traditional campaigning is more common with far-right conservatives, and she probably feels very strongly about her agenda. But on the other hand she is relatively unknown and conventional wisdom would be for a candidate to make herself known to as many voters as possible.

One of the mistakes first-time, statewide candidates make is to hire too many consultants, so it takes a certain amount of courage for someone to do it on her own terms, Barnes said.

“She is exactly who she appears to be,” Barnes said.

Douglas is no newcomer to politics, having won a seat on the Peoria Unified School District twice, and making unsuccessful runs for the Legislature and Glendale City Council. Although her victory over state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal was no surprise considering his blunders stemming from controversial anonymous blogs, she defeated the career politician convincingly by 17 percentage points. And she did it by pounding the anti-Common Core drum.

Douglas contends that Common Core, also known here as Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, is a mandate from the federal government and a way to nationalize education. The standards cover math and English and were adopted in 2010 by the state Board of Education. Earlier this year, Common Core foes in the Legislature tried to chip away or repeal them completely.

Garcia supports the standards and has some conservative tendencies such as supporting school choice and school tuition organizations.

Although Douglas promises to repeal the standards in Arizona, the superintendent of public instruction has no authority to do it.

And so far, she has not had anything to say about other aspects of education in Arizona.  For example, 256 school business managers and school employees showed up to hear a debate between Garcia and Douglas on Sept. 10 in Mesa at the bi-monthly meeting of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.   The group lobbies the Legislature and has traditionally has a working relationship with the schools chief.

The event turned into Garcia giving his views and then answering questions from Essigs.

Garcia’s spokeswoman, Julie Erfle, noted that Douglas has skipped debates and public appearances with him during the general election campaign.

“We have not been in the same room with her,” Erfle said.

Margaret Kenski, a Republican pollster, said the debate with Garcia isn’t as important as simply letting voters know where she stands on issues.

“She may feel her best opportunity is to play a very quiet game,” Kenski said.

Kenski also noted that since Douglas is a publicly funded candidate she has limited funds and has to spend them wisely, waiting instead to get out her message around the time early ballots are sent to voters.