An education-oriented independent committee has spent nearly $10,000 trying to knock Republican incumbents out of two Tucson-area legislative races.
The Arizonans 4 Education group wants to unseat Republicans Frank Antenori in the east-side District 30 and Vic Williams in northwest-side District 26. It's backing challengers Marian McClure and Wade McLean, who it contends have a better record or history of supporting education.
Antenori and Williams said they think Democrats are behind the effort, even though the group includes a mix of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
After Arizona slipped to lowest in the nation in per-pupil spending, Arizonans 4 Education decided the Legislature should be more committed to education, said Chairman John Schaefer, a former University of Arizona president.
"We're trying to identify candidates who run for public office who will be supportive of education, regardless of what party they're with," Schaefer said.
Of 18 donations to the committee, 10 came from registered Democrats. Three Republicans and three independents also contributed, as well as two people whose registration status couldn't be confirmed. Candidates targeted by Arizonans 4 Education said the group's political mailers contain personal attacks and don't reflect their track records of voting for education.
Antenori said the group ignored two-thirds of his education votes and looked strictly at the budget cuts affecting education.
That vote doesn't make him anti-education, he said. While other state departments had to come up with cuts of 20 percent to nearly 30 percent cuts, education was cut as little as possible in the final budget, Antenori said. He said he supported measures to allow school districts to acquire state trust land and a bill backing performance-based teacher hiring. "I considered that pro-education," he said.
Antenori also said he voted for a simplified school-rating system and the elimination of ethnic studies programs, which he said are pro-education positions because "we're supposed to be teaching math, science, history, not 'the white guy screwed us over, and this is Mexican land taken from us.' "
Williams highlighted his support of the Proposition 100 sales-tax increase, his fight to fund the Arizona Science Foundation, his promotion of the interests of the University of Arizona at the Legislature, and his vote for First Things First, which deals with early-childhood-education funding. As did Antenori, Williams pointed out that the state's budget reduced education funds less than it did funding for other major state departments.
"I think I've been very supportive of education, and I think my record supports that," Williams said.
Schaefer said McClure's voting record from a previous term in the Legislature backed education, and McLean was endorsed because he used to be a teacher.
Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-7790.