Foes of state schools chief Diane Douglas can now start gathering the more than 366,000 signatures – probably a lot more – that they will need to try to oust her from office.
Max Goshert, who chairs the recall committee, submitted the required paperwork Tuesday to the Secretary of State’s Office to start the recall drive.
But in doing so, Goshert started the clock running.
State law gives recall organizers just 120 days to submit 366,128 valid signatures. That sets a deadline of Dec. 30.
More to the point, Mary Fontes who handles elections matters for the office, told Goshert he likely needs a margin of 25 percent given the number of signatures that normally get disqualified for one reason or another. That makes the real goal in excess of 450,000.
In the formal statement of recall, the committee says that since Douglas took office in January she has “demonstrated that she lacks the ability and expertise to serve professionally and politically.” It claims she has spent more time trying to “increase her power” than dealing with education issues.
But the recall is really no surprise.
Foes announced the plans last November, even before she actually was sworn in. But they could not act at the time, as the Arizona Constitution precludes recalls of statewide elected officials until they have been in office for six months.
Much of the criticism of Douglas has been her attempts to do what she promised during the campaign: dismantle the Common Core academic standards. Those efforts led to the other things that have kept Douglas in the news – and in court – including her unsuccessful effort to fire two employees of the state Board of Education who she called “two liberal staff who have publicly stated they will block all efforts to repeal or change Common Core.”
But Goshert said Tuesday the real problem is that Douglas has not been an advocate for public education.
“She’s the person who has to go in front of the Legislature and say why public schools deserve more money,” Goshert said.
That claim, however, is only partly true.
In January, Douglas told a House panel that the state of education in Arizona is “poor.” She also told members of the Education Committee that they’re going to have to take some responsibility – and pony up some dollars – if they want the situation to improve.
“New teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate,” she said. After the last school year, 24 percent of first-year teachers and 20 percent of second-year teachers did not come back.
And one reason for that, Douglas said, is money.
“Arizona’s average teacher salary is ranked 42nd in the nation and salaries are a major obstacle when recruiting outside of Arizona,” she told the panel. “Without experienced, highly effective teachers in each Arizona classroom, our students will struggle to succeed.”
Douglas, however, made no specific budget request to lawmakers, acknowledging the state at the time was looking at a deficit. Nor did she ever submit a specific funding proposal later in the session to the budget committees.
A spokeswoman for Douglas said her boss is paying no attention at all to the recall effort.
“This isn’t on Superintendent Douglas’ radar at all,” said Sally Stewart. “She remains focused on supporting Arizona students, parents and educators, something that has not changed since she took office in January.”
But Robert Graham, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, said Goshert and David Bier, the campaign’s treasurer, are “young Democrats … following the lead of their party elders and wasting time and money on useless complaining about the outcome of the election in which Republicans clearly dominated the opposition.”
Even if Goshert gets the necessary number of signatures, it could be close to a year before voters actually get to decide whether she should remain in office.
Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said his agency has 10 days to process the petitions. Then counties have another 60 days to review the petitions and determine if the signatures match the voter registration rolls, the people are registered voters and that they live at the addresses listed.
If the petition drive reaches the goal, the elected official is given a chance to resign or submit a statement of defense. In the latter case, others who want to run for office can submit nominating papers.
Goshert said his organization is not now supporting anyone to run against Douglas.
Roberts said state law requires recall elections to be held on one of the four dates spelled out for elections in state law: in March, May, August or November. Given all the deadlines, he figures the earliest possible date would be next August.
Goshert would not detail Tuesday who is financing the recall effort. State law does not require him to file financial disclosure forms until the end of January, after the petition drive is over.
Douglas, a Republican and former member and chair of the Peoria Unified School District board, was elected in November over Democrat David Garcia by a margin of just 16,034 votes out of more than 1.46 million cast.
Her tenure has been marked by ongoing disputes with the Board of Education whose members – with her as the lone exception – are named by the governor. She contends the board and it staff have frustrated her efforts to affect education policy in Arizona, notably on Common Core; board members who support Common Core counter that they set education policy and it is Douglas’ job to carry that out.
There has been only one successful recall of a state official: Voters in Mesa in 2011 removed state Senate President Russell Pearce from office.
In 1988, however, sufficient signatures were gathered to force a recall of Gov. Evan Mecham. But before there was an election Mecham was removed from office after being impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate.