The two Democratic candidates for state superintendent of public instruction played up the differences in their education backgrounds at a Thursday night debate hosted by The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.
Kathy Hoffman and David Schapira, who will face off in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for state schools chief, agree on practically all the major education issues.
But both said their contrasting backgrounds makes them the best choice for Democrats in the general election. One of them touted her boots-on-the-ground experience as an educator; the other pointed to his background in the political and policy arena.
Hoffman, 32, a first-time candidate for public office, has framed her candidacy around her experience as a teacher and speech therapist who will advocate for “some of our most marginalized and vulnerable kids” whom she’s taught.
She described herself as an advocate for educators and LGBTQ students, and cast herself as part of a broader wave of “non-traditional candidates” who are fueling their candidacies with “grassroots energy.”
Schapira, 38, a Tempe councilman, pointed to his resume — a former educator, school administrator, state lawmaker and school board member — for why he should be elected superintendent.
Schapira said his credentials would make him an effective voice for the state’s public schools at the Capitol.
Hoffman and Schapira mostly kept the gloves on during the Thursday night debate.
Both sidestepped questions about a recent paid cable-TV ad by the Hoffman campaign accusing Schapira of bullying tactics. The ad marked a shift in tone from what had been a quiet race between two near-identical campaigns.
Asked about the accusations in her campaign’s paid ad, Hoffman said, “I want to make it very clear, that when I am superintendent of public instruction I will always stand up to bullies and elevate the voices of teachers.”
Schapira said it was “odd to have a bullying accusation thrown my way,” noting he was bullied as a kid for being Jewish.
Both said they wanted to move past the controversy.
Instead of dwelling on the ad, Hoffman and Schapira struck a tone of party unity and directed their digs at a candidate who didn’t even participate in the debate: incumbent Diane Douglas.
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“At the end of the day, it is critically important to have a Democrat in the office of superintendent of public instruction come November, no matter what,” Hoffman said.
Schapira, in turn, said, “I think Kathy is far more qualified than our current superintendent of schools who’s never worked a day in a school.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face the winner of the crowded Republican primary field in the Nov. 6 election.
The Democratic candidates both said the #RedForEd teacher activism movement, as well as the fact that public education is one of the top issues among voters, will help propel them to victory in November.
That outcome, if achieved, would contrast the 2014 election for state superintendent. That year, Democrat David Garcia, an ASU professor now running for Arizona governor, narrowly lost to Douglas despite having won a majority of votes in Maricopa and Pima counties.
At Thursday’s debate, Hoffman and Schapira both stumped for the Invest In Education ballot measure and justified the statewide #RedForEd teacher walkout that affected 850,000 students.
Hoffman said she was “proud” to vote in favor of walking out. With #RedForEd, she said, “we saw the public getting educated, we saw them going down to the Capitol.”
“And I’m not advocating for another walkout, by any means,” Hoffman said. “But I do believe the power of the people is also a positive force.”
Schapira said the walkout was “necessary” and “our last remaining option” to help restore some of the $1.1 billion in cuts to education funding following the recession.
Both candidates said they would be more vocal on Arizona’s education issues than Douglas.
“When the House Appropriations Committee was debating the education budget … Diane Douglas was at home tweeting, asking people to sign her campaign petition, while Kathy and I were at the Capitol advocating for kids across the state,” Schapira said.
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