Richard Hernandez pounded his hand against a whiteboard in a small conference room at Eckstrom-Columbus Library Monday, repeating his mantra — “If it’s not about those three things (the kiddos, students and children), get the hell out” — to the room of about 20 people who showed up to the launch of his new political action committee, No 5th Term, opposing Tucson Unified School District Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva.
Hernandez made his name as an activist in the Sunnyside Unified School District by spearheading the successful recall of two board members in 2014, and, in effect, firing Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo.
But ousting Grijalva may be more of an uphill battle, he admits, noting that at his first event announcing the Sunnyside recall plans, he had 150 people show up.
The PAC has two volunteers and $25 so far, he told the crowd, asking them to imagine how sweet victory will be starting from there. His chief complaint is how Grijalva, who previously said she wouldn’t seek re-election, announced her change of heart.
At a heated school board meeting in April, the board majority fired the principal of Pueblo High for his role in a grade-changing scandal, and Grijalva announced she would seek to keep her seat on the board in a fiery speech from the dais.
The PAC, which is not endorsing any of her opponents in the upcoming election, also has a laundry list of negative news articles about Grijalva posted to its website.
In her 16 years on the board, Grijalva has taken the blame for not only her perceived sins but also those of her father, Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, who held a seat on the school board from 1974 to 1986. And the crowd’s criticisms at Eckstrom-Columbus Library fell along those lines. Asked why they showed up to a PAC launch event to oppose the younger Grijalva, several invoked her father.
Others, like Brian Glenn father of a 13-year-old, had their own reasons.
“She’s been there too damn long. She’s not doing anything good,” Glenn said. “They probably are all dysfunctional, but she’s been there the longest.... When she was in the leadership, how come she didn’t make anything better?”
Glenn noted how Grijalva voted to give the former superintendent a raise around the same time the school district asked his child to bring toilet paper to school because the district couldn’t afford it.
Jasmyne Godoy, a sophomore at Sahuaro High, was there with her mom and said the school district is a mess.
Her first day of school, the air conditioner broke and the school switched her schedule four times before getting her permanent schedule. “I still don’t have the books for my classes,” she said, noting she had homework to do that night.
The next day, Hernandez took his show on the road, speaking at the call to the audience portion of the TUSD school board meeting. As he ended his speech, the applause was curt. Only his campaign treasurer, Pilar Ruiz, and TUSD board member Rachael Sedgwick clapped.
CAMPAIGN AD WARS
There was a moment last week when Congressional District 2 Democratic voters might have been finally spared the near-constant onslaught of negative mailers.
Former Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick — whose campaign sent out six separate mailers attacking political rival and fellow Democrat Matt Heinz — vowed she heard the public loud and clear and promised to stop sending the mailers.
“We have listened to your thoughts, and we will not send another mailer mentioning any of my opponents,” she wrote on Twitter. “I am focused on delivering my positive vision for Southern Arizona and listening to the issues that concern voters.”
New mailers from Kirkpatrick, honoring her pledge, showed up almost immediately.
But so did a fresh attack ad on Heinz, who works at Tucson Medical Center as an emergency-room doctor, coming from a group calling itself Progress Tomorrow Inc.
The $10,000 ad buy is small potatoes compared to other PAC money that has flooded airwaves, mailboxes and social-media channels in CD2. The group has also told the FEC it will spend $20,000 on digital ads benefiting Kirkpatrick and another $23,000 on pro-Kirkpatrick mailers.
But there is one name that is interesting in the donor rolls of Progress Tomorrow — although it is indirectly: James Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive officer of 21st Century Fox.
Murdoch gave $500,000 to United Together, one of two new groups that are listed as the sole contributors to Progress Tomorrow.
One estimate puts the amount of independent outside money coming into the Democratic primary in CD2 at at least $450,000.
An Emily’s List affiliated group, Women Vote, told the FEC that it would spend roughly $251,000 on attack ads on broadcast and cable television against the pro-choice Heinz.
For those who are familiar with Emily’s List, the group recruits and supports pro-choice Democratic women to run for office.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also backed Kirkpatrick as early as July, partnering on a 30-second ad buy that touts the former congresswoman’s record in standing up against Republicans.
But not all the ads are going after Heinz. Arizonans United for Healthcare reportedly will spend $25,000 criticizing the former Flagstaff congresswoman.