Arizona Swears In New Education-Minded Governor

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Arizona's new governor--swept into office by an unusual turn of events this month--has pledged to put children and their education at the forefront in her administration's agenda.

Jane Dee Hull, formerly the state's secretary of state, took the helm on Sept. 5, the same day fellow Republican Fife Symington resigned as governor after his conviction on seven felony counts of fraud stemming from his dealings as a private real estate developer.

Ms. Hull, a veteran state lawmaker, comes to the top job at a time when state policymakers face critical education questions, the most pressing among them how to retool the way Arizona pays for its schools.

Former Teacher

In 1994, the state supreme court ruled unconstitutional Arizona's system of financing school construction and maintenance. Lawmakers must come up with a system that meets constitutional muster by June 30, 1998, or state school aid will be frozen. In August, a state court rejected legislators' latest school finance plan. ("Judge Dismisses Latest School Finance Plan In Ariz.," Sept. 3, 1997.)

Ms. Hull is a former teacher, and "I think it has a profound effect on her and her outlook. Education will be her priority and more comprehensive child and family policy in the state," said Jaime A. Molera, state Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan's director of policy and federal relations. Mr. Molera was dispatched to Ms. Hull's transition team to serve as her education adviser.

Many educators say they welcome the change in state leadership.

"This is a year of opportunity," said B. Kay Lybeck, the president of the 30,000-member Arizona Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. "We're looking forward to working with a person who's a known consensus-builder."

Seeking Peace

Mr. Symington's departure marked the second time in less than a decade that an Arizona governor has been forced from office. In 1988, Evan Mecham, also a Republican, was impeached and driven from office over charges of campaign-finance irregularities.

Under Arizona law, Mr. Symington was forced to resign upon his conviction on the fraud counts. Since Arizona has no lieutenant governor, Ms. Hull was the one to replace him. Her term will extend until the November 1998 gubernatorial election.

Mr. Symington, a vocal proponent of charter schools and private school vouchers, often butted heads with Arizona's state schools chief and the public education establishment. Now, many education leaders are hoping for a more peaceful relationship with Gov. Hull, whose associates describe as fiscally conservative and more moderate on social issues. She supports abortion rights, for example.

Ms. Hull served for 14 years in the state legislature and became the first woman speaker of the Arizona House in 1989. Before that, she was a teacher. Ms. Hull is a 62-year-old mother of four and grandmother of eight.

Ms. Hull and Ms. Keegan, a fellow Republican, have a good relationship that dates back to when the two served in the legislature together, said Patricia Likens, Ms. Keegan's spokeswoman.

While the new governor's positions on major education issues have not yet surfaced, she has stated that differences between her and Mr. Symington will be more in style than substance. She already has agreed to let stand Mr. Symington's appeal of last month's state court decision declaring his revamped finance plan insufficient. But Ms. Hull favors "bigger-picture reform," Mr. Molera said. "What she doesn't want is another Band-aid solution," he said.

Looking Ahead

Beyond Ms. Hull's role in the finance debate--which is likely to drive education policy for months to come--the new governor also will have a chance to exert influence by appointing two state school board members whose terms on the nine-member panel expire next year.

Ms. Hull is expected to run for governor in next year's election. While many Democrats see a window of opportunity in the black eye Mr. Symington has left on his party, most observers say a political sea change in GOP-dominated Arizona is highly unlikely.

Over the course of a 17-week trial, Mr. Symington faced a total of 21 felony counts. The jury deadlocked on 11 counts and acquitted the governor on three others. Mr. Symington, who is scheduled to be formally sentenced on Nov. 10, may face prison time and millions of dollars in fines. His lawyers plan to appeal.

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  • Read Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull's investiture speech and her statement on her predecessor's conviction from the Arizona Governor's Web Site.
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