Primary Round-Up: Races Across the Country Showcase Education Issues

By Lauren Camera — August 27, 2014 5 min read
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Voters across the country narrowed the number of candidates on the mid-term election campaign trail during Tuesday’s primary races. While most of the results were as predicted, including former Gov. Charlie Crist getting the vote of confidence from Florida Democrats to square off against Gov. Rick Scott in November, the races themselves put education issues on center stage and underscored the potentially politically potent issue of common-core standards.

Here’s a state-by-state recap.


State education chief John Huppenthal fell to Republican primary challenger Diane Douglas in Tuesday’s primary, largley because of his unpopular stance on the Common Core State Standards among conservatives, and a high-profile controversy in which he posted inflammatory comments to political blogs about welfare recipients, abortion and more.

The Associated Press called the race just after midnight Wednesday morning.

Nowhere did the common core emerge as such a boogeyman in state primaries than in Arizona, where Huppenthal, once an ardent supporter of the standards, was forced to walk back his enthusiasm after Douglas slammed the standards as a federal intrusion, the more popular GOP stance.

In 2010, Arizona adopted a slightly altered version of the common core, which it calls Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards. They were implemented last school year.

Douglas made her opposition to the standards the centerpiece of her campaign, which led to Huppenthal, who had previously characterized some conservative common-core foes as “barbarians at the gate,” doing a complete about-face. He even went so far as to tell the Arizona Republic he’d “never” supported the standards.

At the time this blog was published, David Garcia led Sharon Thomas as the Democratic contender for state education chief.

[UPDATE (8:55 A.M.): David Garcia won the Democratic nomination for state education chief with 54 percent of the vote.]

Garcia, currently an associate professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, has a long resume in education policy. He’s served as the state associate superintendent of public instruction for standards and accountability, director of research and policy for the Arizona Department of Education, research analyst for the Arizona State Senate Education Committee, and as a peer consultant for the U.S. Department of Education.

Constituents from the Grand Canyon State also chose Doug Ducey as their Republican candidate in the gubernatorial race over Scott Smith. The AP called the race just before midnight, with Ducey, the elected state treasurer who is anti-common core and pro-school choice, leading Smith 37 perncet to 23 percent with 15 percent of precincts reports.

Ducey will face Democrat Fred Duval, a former member of the state Board of Regents, in November, for outgoing Gov. Jan Brewer’s seat.


Meanwhile, in the Sunshine State, former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, secured his widely-anticipated nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, in the gubernatorial race this November.

Crist won by a large margin against former state Sen. Nan Rich. When the AP called the race at 8 P.M., with a third of precincts reporting, Crist led 75 percent to 25 percent.

Crist and Scott have essentially been campaigning against each other for months—with their face-off all but official before Tuesday—and education spending has been the top issue in the heated race.

Two weeks ago, Scott decided to make K-12 funding a major part of his campaign, when he declared that he planned to increase per-student aid to record levels if he’s re-elected. Scott said that he wants to boost spending to $7,132 per student for fiscal 2016—the governor says that tops the previous spending level of $7,126 in fiscal 2008, which was approved during Crist’s first year as governor.

Meanwhile, Crist, who was governor from 2007 to 2011, began a statewide school bus tour earlier this month, and bashed Scott for cutting $1.3 billion from K-12 spending for fiscal 2012. Scott shouldn’t get all of the blame for that reduction, since there were also significant reductions in federal aid at the time, but the state’s level of support for public schools did decline early in Scott’s tenure.

The campaign hasn’t escaped the issue of common core, either. Reuters reported that Scott announced on Monday that he plans to task Florida’s Department of Education with investigating all standardized testing and creating an “independent review committee” to look for ways to deregulate the 67 county school boards in their selection of instructional materials.

Florida is one of several states that decided against using tests from either of the two federally funded common-core consortia.

Reuters also reported that Scott proposed doubling the state’s current $40 million in digital learning programs.


In Oklahoma, Democrats nominated John Cox, superintendent of the rural, 240-student Peggs School District, as their candidate for state education chief. He eked out a victory over Freda Deskin, winning 63.5 percent of the vote.

Deskin, who has an impressive education resume that includes decades spent as a teacher, principal, superintendent, dean of a college, and charter school founder, also trailed Cox in June’s primary by just 3 percent.

Cox will face off against Joy Hofmeister come November. Hofmeister, a former teacher, brings some drama to the race: Gov. Mary Fallin appointed her to the state board of education in 2011, after current state chief Janet Barresi took office. (Barresi finished third in the state’s Republican primary.) But the two ended up butting heads on several education initiatives, and she finally resigned from the board this April, with intentions to challenge Barresi’s re-election.


The Green Mountain state also held two primaries Tuesday, though their impact on education is slight.

Scott Milne won the Republican nomination for governor, beating out Steve Berry and Emily Peyton with 85 percent of the vote. The AP called the race just before 9 P.M., with 42 percent of precincts reporting.

Milne will face-off against two-term Democratic incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin in November, who also easily defeated primary challenger H. Brooke Paige, 84 percent to 16 percent.

Shumlin supports the common core, which is being implemented in Vermont schools beginning this year, and has made early-childhood education a major priority in the last year. Milne, for his part, doesn’t have a lot of experience on education issues. His campaign website says only that he’s concerned about how education is funded in Vermont: “My property taxes are up more than 700 percent in 20 years, school enrollments are down, and spending continues to rise. The time has come to rethink how government funds education.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.