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Carolyn Warner, former superintendent of education, dead at 88

Carolyn Warner

Carolyn Warner

Carolyn Warner, who died Tuesday, could have been the first woman governor of Arizona if it weren’t for Bill Schulz.

And the state would have been spared the political wounds of having to impeach and convict a sitting governor.

After losing the general election in 1986, Warner, who had been state school superintendent, said she thought that Arizona just wasn’t ready for a woman to be the state’s chief executive.

But the truth is more complicated. And, curiously enough, her defeat at the hands of Republican Ev Mecham did eventually lead to the first woman governor two years later as Secretary of State Rose Mofford after Mecham was ousted.

Born in 1930 in Oklahoma, Warner was active in Democratic politics there.

After moving to Arizona in 1953 she and husband Ron ran a high-end furniture store in Phoenix before she decided to get directly involved in statewide politics by running for schools chief in 1974. She was elected as the first non-educator ever to that position, serving for three four-year terms, as this was before term limits.

There was a bid in 1976 for U.S. Senate, but she lost the primary to Pima County Attorney Dennis DeConcini.

The 1986 gubernatorial race came as incumbent Democrat Bruce Babbitt chose to focus his energies on a bid for president. Warner became the party’s nominee, with Mecham becoming the GOP standard-bearer after defeating House Majority Leader Burton Barr in a bitter primary.

But then Democrat Bill Schulz, who had run for U.S. Senate in 1980 against Barry Goldwater, decided he wanted a shot at the state’s top office. So he became a political independent and poured $2.2 million of his own cash on the race, a huge amount at the time.

The result was that Mecham picked up 343,913 votes against 298,986 for Warner — and Schulz tallying 224,085.

State lawmakers subsequently got voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to require someone to get at least 50 percent of the vote to get elected. But that was repealed after the 1990 gubernatorial race forced a runoff between Democrat Terry Goddard and Republican Fife Symington.

Mecham was subsequently found guilty by the state Senate of illegally lending $850,000 of proceeds from an inaugural ball to his Glendale Pontiac dealership and of obstruction of justice for telling the director of the Department of Public Safety not to cooperate into an investigation of death threats involving two aides.

He died in 2008.

In the years after leaving politics directly, Warner and former state schools aide Dave Bolger formed Corporate/Education Consulting Inc., a consulting, speaking and training firm. But she remained an active supporter of Democratic candidates and was a super-delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2008 even as then-Gov. Janet Napolitano backed Barack Obama.

Four years ago she endorsed David Garcia in his unsuccessful race for school superintendent against Republican Diane Douglas.

That did not stop Douglas from having some nice words about Warner on Wednesday.

“Although we were from different sides of the political aisle, there was no other former superintendent of public instruction that was nearly as gracious and kindhearted to me as Carolyn,” Douglas said in a prepared statement. Douglas also said that Warner remained active on education issues, with the pair serving together as co-chairs of the Career and Technical Education Quality Skills Commission.

She is the author of four books, including “The Last Word: A Treasury of Women’s Quotations.”

Arizona finally got its first elected woman governor in 1998 in Republican Jane Hull. She actually had become governor the year before after Symington was forced to resign after being indicted on charges of fraud.

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