Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal

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Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has admitted to posting anonymous online statements that have offended many people in Arizona. Lisa Urias, co-chair for Real Arizona Coalition and president of Urias Communications and Michael Kelly, Valley businessman and education advocate share their views on what Huppenthal posted online.

José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal is under fire for posting anonymous and controversial online statements that many people in Arizona found offensive. We'll talk to community leaders about this in a moment. Earlier this week Superintendent Huppenthal had the opportunity to tell his side of the story on "Arizona Horizon."

(Sound on tape)

Ted Simons: I think some of those School Districts, some of those educators, some of the students, some of the parents, some of the teachers, they still want to know why. I understand that you've now said it's a mistake. You have apologized for this. People want to know why. What made you sit there in front of your computer and engage in these kinds debates and do it anonymously.

John Huppenthal: Ted, I have a passion for public policy. It drives me and everything that I do. And it's a passion to serve the community. And to do it with a great deal of knowledge. My blog comments, they were offensive, they were hurtful. I've repudiated them. The -- the -- when I go home at night, I study every single night. I go and I read. I have over 600 books on my Kindle. I have four Kindles. I fluctuate between all of those. We expect leaders to have a profound knowledge. The blog comments that people have read don't reflect that profound knowledge, and I seek that. I feel deeply apologetic for those blog comments, but they absolutely were a mistake.

Ted Simons: How do you think those people feel when they read you describing people on assistance as ‘lazy pigs' getting air-conditioning, free health care, flat-screen TVs, which you said are typical of poor people. How do you think they feel?

John Huppenthal: That blog comment was offensive, it was hurtful. I've repudiated it. I've apologized for it.

Ted Simons: But what made you say it in the first place? People want to know. They understand you're apologetic, but what made you say it in the first place?

John Huppenthal: Well, I have a deep passion, coming from a disadvantaged background myself. I have a deep passion for moving people off of -- out of poverty and off of welfare.

John Huppenthal: Why should a Latino kid from a poor family trust you as education chief? Why should a Latino educator, Latino families, especially those from low-income areas, why should they trust you? Regardless of what you've done or want to do, when they know, they think they know, and most folks would assume this is somewhere in your heart, when they read this stuff, why should educators in general trust you?

John Huppenthal: Well Ted, those comments are nowhere in my heart…The bottom line, they should trust me because we are getting things done for them. We are moving programs forward to support them. We are moving these students up academically, our academic results have been moving steadily. We are allowing them to achieve reading skills. We are opening up the doors of economic opportunity.

Ted Simons: What have you learned from all of this?

John Huppenthal: The lessons learned are you're on the front page with every single comment you make and, you know, you have an obligation in this office to uphold a certain standard of honor for students, for teachers and for parents. And when you fall short of that, you're going to be held accountable in some pretty serious and severe ways.

(End of tape)

José Cárdenas: Joining me tonight to talk about Superintendent Huppenthal's stories is Lisa Urias, cochair for Real Arizona Coalition, and President of Urias Communications. And Michael Kelly, Valley businessman and education advocate. I meant to say the Huppenthal story. Before we get into this, I should say we did issue an invitation to Superintendent Huppenthal, and he declined to appear on the show tonight. So, you saw the clips and I think you saw the full interviews. Lisa, your overall reaction.

Lisa Urias: Well, four years of blogging these reprehensible things about poor people, African-Americans, the Jewish community, Hispanics doesn't suddenly give you a pass because you apologize.

José Cárdenas: And why isn't that good enough? He said it over and over and over. I apologize, I repudiate them. That's not what was in my heart. Why isn't that enough?

Lisa Urias: It's not good enough, because he is the state's chief Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is -- he did these blogs, he made it clear that he was the blogger. He did it anonymously, which really in some ways is even more disturbing -- that you wouldn't let the voters know who you really are and how you really feel about things. So in fact, he's being a fraud in many respects by not letting people know how he really feels about the electorate.

José Cárdenas: Michael, the voters now do know, not because he disclosed before these things came out, he was forced to admit it. Why wouldn't we judge him as he repeatedly said, not necessarily in all the comments we had there -- judge me on my record and let the voters decide.

Michael Kelly: First of all, this is the first term. And he doesn't have an outstanding record. He doesn't have the record of historically what I think are good Superintendents of Public Instruction, like Lisa Graham Keegan. She had an excellent record of moving the dial and moving education in Arizona to a different level. So this is like the first term. The interesting thing about that interview is that Ted Simons, first of all, asked excellent questions. But secondly, I think that the voters of Arizona should be struck by the fact that he talks about reading 600 books and his depth of knowledge. But that knowledge seems to be very shallow when you consider the fact that someone who's so educated and so knowledgeable and leads education in Arizona would for four years make anonymous blog posts like he did, which were vile and reprehensible.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about some of the excuses he gave. He did apologize repeatedly. He also tried to explain why he would say different things, for example with respect to his first comments about -- his first statement, he says he has a passion for public policy. You suggested that he's read a lot; he thinks a lot and wants to express his views. That's why he did what he did.

Michael Kelly: When you talk about passion, and he said those weren't the things in my heart, I believe that those were the things in his heart. And I would expect him to apologize and back away because he got caught. And that's interesting to me, that happens quite a bit. Once the vile statements, negative statements, hurtful statements see the light of day. So the cover has been pulled off. People are looking behind the curtain, and they are seeing what he really believes. And he's exercised those beliefs. And in this day and age, many times people refer to them as dog whistles, so that people can get votes and maintain their office. But it's an offense to all of the people, and he offended a number of groups. You know, he offended Hispanics, he offended African-Americans, he offended Jews. And those are the dog whistles that ring loud and clear that the voters should respond to and not accept.

José Cárdenas: Lisa, a couple other of these explanations, so to speak, with respect to the lazy pigs comment, he begins by saying I have a passion for the disadvantaged, I grew up in a disadvantaged background, as well. How does that play?

Lisa Urias: Well, it doesn't play. It's inexcusable to refer to the working poor that are out there every day doing what they do to support their children as lazy pigs. And here we are in a state where people really are doing their very best to provide for their children, but they are struggling families. And this person should be held to the very highest standards. He's representing these families, he's representing these children. If a teacher referred to a child in that way, that teacher would be fired. So that's why we think that Superintendent of Public Instruction Huppenthal should resign. He should not hold this office when he's referring to more than 40% I think of the population in this way.

José Cárdenas: You heard Ted Simons' question about why should Latino kids, why should educators trust him in light of the comments he has made. His response is look at my record, look at the accomplishments we've made, look what I've done for these kids, judge me on that. What's wrong with that answer?

Lisa Urias: For some time, those of us in the Latino community have been concerned about Huppenthal and his attitude and his decisions about our community anyway. So for example, the Mexican-American studies program that he eliminated in Tucson, he refers in his blog post to Mexican-American studies as MAS equals KKK. Well, you know, that is clearly an indicator that he has no support for Mexican-American studies. He also refers to Latino kids publicly as deficient. And when you label a child as deficient, that's a label that they should not have. We need a Superintendent of Public Instruction who believes in our children, who believes in their potential. Being Bilingual and entering school as a bilingual child is not a deficiency.

José Cárdenas: Michael, the last clip we showed, the question from Ted Simons was what have you learned? His answer was that you're held accountable for what you say and what you do. The suggestion being though that I'm being held accountable because people are attacking me now and I'm having to live with that. Is that enough?

Michael Kelly: No, it's not enough. He has not been held accountable until now for the words that he's spoken. You know, it's interesting, Jose, that today literally marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Lyndon Johnson brought together Republicans, brought together Democrats, brought together men and women, people of different religions. And it was hard struggle to get that law enacted in that time period. So it's been over -- it's been 50 years since that legislation was signed. And now it appears the clock is being turned back because of political reasoning, as opposed to seeing that it's important to educate our kids and expose them to all of the things that are available in education. Arizona ranks so poorly in education, and if he wants to be judged by his success and the merits, then do some things to improve education. We have Common Core coming up, we have education finance, those are significant issues.

José Cárdenas: Now, Common Core, he cites his position on Common Core as an example or proof that he didn't say what he said to appeal to Tea Party voters in the upcoming election because they have a different position than he does on Common Core. What do you say to that?

Michael Kelly: Well, that's only one issue and that doesn't excuse the words that he's used. And I'll tell you, pulling a Boehner where you cry and think that all is going to be forgiven for years of disrespectful --

José Cárdenas: You're referring to his press conference where he broke down in tears.

Michael Kelly: Where he broke down in tears. That's not going to excuse the facts in this particular case. Thank goodness for the attorney blogger who was able to, you know, go back through the I.P. address and find out who had really been saying these things. I guess it, excuse me, should be a warning to anybody who wants to surreptitiously blog, that he leave markers and you can be held accountable and he should be held accountable.

José Cárdenas: I want to come back to the issue of the propriety of anonymous commentary. But Lisa, Michael mentioned Republicans in politics. He was talking in historical context. But there's been criticism leveled by some about the Republican establishment of political leaders not coming out more vigorously in repudiating Superintendent Huppenthal. Is that a fair criticism?

Lisa Urias: Well, you know, fortunately we had two former Superintendents of Public Instruction, Lisa Keegan and Jaime Molera who were both Republican and came out and asked for his resignation. I know that Lisa called him personally and spoke with him about this issue. She told us privately and she also mentioned in a press conference that we held together that he was not sorry when she spoke with him about it a few days later. So I do think we have Republican leadership that has stepped forward. I also believe that you will see over time more business leadership stepping forward. This is another hit to the Arizona brand. We are reeling from 1070, then 1062, and now something like this, we had hits on CNN and several other national news networks. It's got to stop.

José Cárdenas: Well, does the fact that he has received a tremendous amount of criticism and that he has expressed his regret, is that some kind of cautionary tale, for example in the current gubernatorial election? Do you see the candidates responding in a way that at least shows they have learned that lesson and they are not going make the same mistakes?

Lisa Urias: Well, I certainly hope so. I think it takes all of us in the general public standing together and making sure that our public officials behave properly. They cannot make these kinds of statements. They are held to a higher standard in many respects than the rest of us. They are elected officials. We need to make sure that when we see these public officials behaving in this way that we stand up together and we say, we're not going to accept this kind of behavior.

José Cárdenas: I understand there was a recent -- I think the debate was amongst Republican gubernatorial hopefuls. And you were talking about it; we were discussing this off camera. There did seem to be some lip service paid to the notion that this is inappropriate. But you were concerned about how sincere those statements were.

Lisa Urias: Well, I'm concerned because the language has gotten so far over to the right in some ways, maybe it's not -- right is not right word, but it's gotten so out of hand when it comes to how people talk about minorities, about the working poor, about Hispanics particularly in Arizona. Last night, for example, we had this debate and Andrew Thomas in the middle of the Hispanic chamber debate was just going on and on about how when he was in office he cleaned up Arizona because immigrants had left and there were cleaner streets and there was no crime. How do we allow people to use this kind of language in this day and age? And Christine Jones, I think she was trying to make a positive point about, I would go to Mexico as my first act and meet with the Mexican government officials. She said, we don't hate Mexico, we don't even hate Mexicans. I know she was trying to make a positive point, but it was really pretty inappropriate.

José Cárdenas: Michael, last question, you touched upon the fact that these comments were anonymous. There are those who defend that activity, saying it's a grand tradition of American politics going back to the revolution when you have people who, for reasons of security and concerns about their own safety, express their views under pseudonyms.

Michael Kelly: Well, times have changed. The Revolutionary War is over. There's a new war of words. I'm not one of those that subscribes to absolute political correctness because I think sometimes that can be skewed. But when you reveal your heart through words, you know, words can hurt. Words can change paradigms. And the words the Superintendent of Public Instruction used were hurtful. He can repudiate the words all he wants, but it's more than four years of words. The other thing, when you talk about brave people who are may be from a different party, I think Glenn Hamer of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce was very brave and executed great insight by refusing to provide, you know, John Huppenthal with an award. And Lisa Graham Keegan said, she was asked the question, how do you feel about this, and Huppenthal being a friend of yours. She said, I'm sick. And we as a community say we are sick of it. No longer are we going stand for these hurtful words.

José Cárdenas: Lisa, I said my last question was to Michael, but something you said makes me want to ask you this. Social media implications, it changes everything. Will this election result turn upon this disclosure?

Lisa Urias: I think there's going to be a lot more awareness thanks to social media about how candidates feel about their constituents. It's interesting. One of the things that I encourage people to do regularly is visit their Facebook pages. Because if you look at what candidates are writing on those Facebook pages, you'll learn a lot about their positions. It's an easy access tool, how they tweet, it's important to follow them, watch how they tweet. You can learn a lot about these candidates.

José Cárdenas: Well, I guess we'll know soon enough whether this makes a difference. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it.

Michael Kelly: Thank you.

Lisa Urias: Thank you, Jose.

Lisa Urias:Co-Chair and President, Real Arizona Coalition and Urias Communications; Michael Kelly:Valley Businessman and Education Advocate;

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