by David Safier
Mark Cardenas (LD-19) and Barbara McGuire (LD-8) support the conservative "education reform" movement. Cardenas is from a safe Democratic district with a 20 point advantage over Republicans, so there's no reason why a candidate who's more progressive on education issues shouldn't primary Cardenas in 2014 and try to take that seat. McGuire is in a swing district with a 2% Democratic edge, and the House members are both Republican, so it's a dicier situation.
Barbara McGuire's conservative education credentials have been given the stamp of approval by the Goldwater Institute. G.I. praised her because she was the swing vote for SB1363 which expands the number of children who can take advantage of Arizona's vouchers-on-steroids program, also known as education savings accounts. She voted No on the bill, which meant it failed, then switched her vote to Yes, which meant it passed. She also received praise for her vote from the very conservative, very pro-voucher American Federation for Children (AFC). She was one of two Democrats AFC supported in the 2012 general election. The other was Mark Cardenas. AFC endorsed them and created independent expenditure campaigns to help them win.
Along with being endorsed by the AFC, Mark Cardenas is a board member of the newly created Arizona branch of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a PAC closely affiliated with AFC. Its mission is to bring more Democrats into the voucher/"school choice" fold. (Here's more on DFER in an earlier post). I don't know much about Cardenas' voting record on education. However, I learned that he attended a June pollution coalition press conference in Phoenix advocating for the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station power plant, to fight against putting pollution controls on the plant. He was the only Democratic legislator in attendance. We can certainly do better than Cardenas in a safe Democratic district.
AFC likes to support a few Democrats who will vote for its privatization agenda along with its many endorsements of conservative Republicans, especially when the Democrats are in safe Democratic districts. Both AFC and DFER use that strategy in states across the country. AFC supported Maria Garcia, Jorge Garcia's widow, who lost her 2012 bid to fill her late husband's seat. It gave money to a few other losing Democratic candidates: Victor Jett Contreras and Sylvia Laughter. DFER, headed in Arizona by Christina Maria Martinez who has strong ties in the Democratic community, is trying to burrow into the party's educational agenda from the inside. Expect DFER to use an endorsement strategy similar to AFC's in 2014.
NOTE: Interestingly, AFC gave a $5,018 contribution to Democratic Rep. Marcario Saldate when he ran in LD-27 in 2010 (Since redistricting, he's in LD-3). I couldn't find anything in Saldate's votes or background that would make him a likely candidate for AFC funds. Since he's a college prof, it may have something to do with his potential votes on higher education. The only red flag I found online was Saldate's answer to a candidate interview question about vouchers from the Republic.
Q: Do you support the use of school vouchers? Why or why not?
A: This questions needs to be addressed by a thorough discussion on the regulation of both private/public charter school standards.
His non-response to the question may be related to the support AFC has given him.
CAPITOL-TIMES-MISSES-PART-OF-THE-STORY NOTE: A story in today's Capitol Times (subscription only) talks about how Barbara McGuire switched her vote on SB1363, as I wrote about above. The story makes this sound like a pure quid pro quo where McGuire voted against her conscience so Republicans would help her pass some bills she sponsored. Either the writer doesn't know about McGuire's connections to AFC or ignored that information in the story, but it's vital to understand that McGuire's vote was not surprising given her endorsement by a conservative education group. If I were to venture a guess -- and this is only a guess -- McGuire voted No the first time because she thought the bill would pass without her and she could preserve her Democratic cred by sticking with her party. But Rich Crandall broke ranks from his fellow Republicans and voted No, which meant the bill failed. When McGuire realized the Republicans needed her vote, she switched to a Yes, and the bill passed.