PHOENIX — A highly publicized effort to recall state schools chief Diane Douglas is folding Wednesday morning after gathering fewer than 10 percent of the signatures realistically needed to force an election.
Recall organizer Max Goshert said Tuesday that volunteers have been able to gather only about 40,000 names in the three months allowed for such petition drives. He needed 366,128 valid signatures to force a vote; given the number normally disqualified, the effort really needed about 450,000.
Goshert said the recall was hampered by lack of funding.
He told Capitol Media Services that donations totaled only about $10,000. That precluded the option of using paid circulators, a move that has become common in statewide petition drives.
But Goshert said the whole effort was undermined by the lack of knowledge of Douglas and the things that she has done — or not done — despite the fact she gets mentioned fairly regularly in newspaper articles and on TV and radio.
“Sure, it might be all over the news,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t watch the news,” Goshert continued. “So they just have no idea who she is.”
Douglas, for her part, has pointedly ignored the whole petition drive and has consistently refused to comment about the efforts.
But Goshert said the failure to even get close to what’s needed to force a recall election does not mean the drive was a failure. More to the point, he said this is not the end of the story.
“We’re going to do what we can to keep our supporters and the public educated about what she’s done,” he said. Goshert said that means “continuing to hold her accountable.”
“She has been one of the most, if not the most, controversial political figures in Arizona this year,” he said.
“If we can keep that spotlight on her, hold her accountable for every single thing that she does, and continue to push her to do things that don’t just improve the power of her position but actually improve education in Arizona, that’s what we need to do for the next three years,” Goshert said. He said that paves the way for the public to decide whether to re-elect Douglas for another four-year term in 2018.
That question of Douglas and what Goshert describes as her bid to “improve” her power has been at the center of the issues that have swirled around the schools chief almost since she took office in January.
Douglas already was a controversial figure before her election, campaigning almost exclusively on her promise to repeal the Common Core academic standards the state Board of Education had approved years earlier and that were already being implemented in Arizona schools.
Barely a month into office, Douglas fired the board’s executive director and her assistant, calling them “two liberal staff who have publicly stated they will block all efforts to repeal or change Common Core.”
Gov. Doug Ducey, who appoints all the board members except for Douglas, quickly interceded to declare that she lacked the authority to fire any of them. And the governor specifically directed state personnel officials to keep them both on the payroll.
But the friction between Douglas’ staff and board employees continued, culminating with the board voting to move its workers out of the Department of Education Building. That resulted in Douglas filing suit, contending that state law gives her control over the board’s employees and where they work.
A trial judge sidestepped the issue, calling it a political matter. That case is now at the Court of Appeals.
But the problems persisted, with the board filing its own lawsuit against Douglas after she refused to give the board’s investigators remote access to teacher files. Douglas insisted they come to what she says are their assigned work stations, meaning in her offices.
There also was a high-profile incident at an August board meeting where Douglas said she was grabbed by board President Greg Miller. Miller insisted he was simply brushing away her microphone when she was speaking out of order but conceded he may have touched her.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, after reviewing police reports, declined to prosecute.
But Douglas also has used her position as superintendent of public instruction to push for higher salaries for teachers even in the face of some reticence by fellow Republicans who run the Legislature and control the state budget.
That theme was repeated in October when she released a multi-point plan for improving public education, citing figures that put teacher pay in Arizona at the bottom of all states.
“We have a teacher shortage, have extended the time substitutes can teach, are trying to recruit teachers from the Philippines and China, and have a turnover rate of around 45 percent in the first two years of teaching,” she said, with money a big part of that.
And Douglas, who never was cozy with the governor, also has been cool to his proposal to settle a lawsuit by schools largely with dollars from an education trust fund account. She suggested the state use $400 million it already has on hand, dipping into the trust fund only as needed.