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Group files to recall state schools chief Diane Douglas

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Group files to recall state schools chief Diane Douglas

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    Laura Sposato/Cronkite News Douglas

After filing paperwork Tuesday, the Coalition to Recall Diane Douglas has until Dec. 30 to gather more than 366,000 signatures on petitions to force the first-term Republican to either step down or again face voters.

The group, led by swimming safety instructor Max Goshert, started the clock ticking by filing an application to recall state Superintendent of Public Instruction Douglas.

"Her entire candidacy and her entire superintendentship has been spent in a battle to increase her own power and her position," said Goshert. "She has done nothing to help schools. She has done nothing to improve education in Arizona."

The controversial Tea Party-aligned head of Arizona's Education Department was elected last year. Her opponents were precluded from filing a recall until she had been in office for at least six months, although they began organizing the effort even before she was sworn in.

The group said they waited until after the hottest summer months to file to increase their ability to contact voters. To account for incorrectly signed petitions, they'll have to gather about 450,000 signatures to ensure they have the 366,128 needed to recall Douglas.

Activists have pointed to Douglas' strident opposition to the Common Core educational standards, and her heated interactions with other officials, including Gov. Doug Ducey and members of the state Board of Education, as reasons voters should remove her from office.

"She is not fulfilling her basic state duties superintending the schools of Arizona, focusing more on how to increase her power and position rather than how to increase student achievement, teacher effectiveness, school performance, stakeholder relations, and educational funding," the recall petition reads.

Goshert said Douglas has no plan to fix Arizona’s low national education rankings and has focused on trivial issues instead.

“The more Arizona is aware, the more they realize they need a better superintendent of public instruction to improve public education in the state of Arizona,” he said during a press conference after filing the petition paperwork with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Douglas’ 10-month tenure as superintendent of public instruction has seen repeated clashes between her and the Arizona Board of Education.

She fired two board employees, Executive Director Christine Thompson and Deputy Director Sabrina Vazquez, in February. Thompson and Vazquez returned to work after Gov. Doug Ducey said Douglas didn’t have the authority to fire board staff.

Douglas reported Board President Greg Miller to the Department of Public Safety after an Aug. 24 meeting, saying he grabbed her arm. He denied the claim.

Charles Tack, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, which Douglas heads, said the superintendent isn’t dwelling on the recall effort.

“That’s not even on her radar, and we don’t have time to focus on distractions like that,” Tack said.

The required number of signatures is 366,128, which is 25 percent of the total votes cast in Douglas’ 2014 general election.

Goshert said his group’s strategy involves volunteer teams collecting signatures and recruiting more team members. None of the circulators are being paid, he said.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of volunteers across the state,” Goshert said. “At the minimum amount of our estimate, it’s 500. However, we believe we have 700 more than that.”

If the petition is successful, Douglas would be placed on a recall election ballot if she did not choose to resign. Other candidates would need to file nominating petitions and collect at least 2 percent of the total votes in the last election to run in the election.

Goshert and the coalition haven’t endorsed an alternate candidate in the event that a special recall election is called.

“Right now, our main focus is just getting her out of office and getting somebody more qualified in. There’s a lot of more qualified people,” he said. “However, the second we throw our support behind a candidate, it becomes a partisan battle.”

Douglas ran in the 2014 election with the campaign slogan of “Stop Common Core!” She defeated incumbent John Huppenthal in the Republican primary and edged Democrat David Garcia in the general election.

The last successfully recalled Arizona public official was Russell Pearce, a former Arizona Senate president and sponsor of the SB 1070 immigration measure. Pearce lost the ensuing recall election to Jerry Lewis in 2011.

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