Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/21109Portillo.html

Democratic, GOP split apt to enliven some political issues
Arizona Daily Star, November 9, 2002
By Ernesto Portillo Jr

It's a good thing the Democrats and Republicans split the state's top positions in Tuesday's elections.

Competition between the warring sides is fun. Nonpartisan politics is overrated.

If Janet Napolitano is officially declared Arizona's next governor, expect political lashes between the state's first elected Democratic governor in 20 years and the  Republican-controlled Legislature.

At the top of the list of potential flashpoints will be the difference over - what else? - money. Napolitano and the Democrat minority will duel with the Republican legislative majority on tax policy and public spending.

There'll be other issues, for sure, but money, or the lack of it, will be the focal point in Phoenix.

How will we finance our way out of the state's deep debt? What state programs and services will be cut or saved?

Dovetailing with the debate over money is the debate over how to rescue our debilitated public schools.

Enter new Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.

Horne and Napolitano could face off on key educational issues. They might split over academic standards, class size reduction, bilingual education and funding.

Horne, a Republican, feels there will be no fireworks between him and Napolitano.

"I really think that education is a nonpartisan issue," Horne said Friday.

"We both agree about funding, accountability and student achievement."

He may be right.

Horne and Napolitano, both attorneys, graduated from the same Phoenix law firm, although they did not work together. He said despite the differences in their political affiliation, they may have much in common.

Napolitano's campaign spokeswoman didn't disagree.

"Janet is looking to find as much common ground as possible with Mr. Horne as well as Republican legislators," said Kris Mayes.

Mayes said Napolitano, as governor, will fight to maintain funding for K-12 classes and revisit the AIMS program, the state's high school graduation requirement test, but maintain state standards.

Horne has said the same.

So much for anticipating fireworks between almost-governor Napolitano and top educator Horne.

Claire Scheuren, a liberal activist who supports Horne, predicted Horne will be amicable.

"He's a very even-tempered, thoughtful person and civil in his dealings," Scheuren said.

Horne will thoroughly argue his position with passion, but he's receptive to a difference of opinion, she said.

Linda Arzoumanian, Pima County's school superintendent, predicts Napolitano and Horne will have a good working relationship.

"They'll have to. They'll both be facing federal and state mandates," said Arzoumanian, a Republican who serves on the state Board of Education.

Marilyn Freed, Tucson Education Association president, isn't convinced there'll be a love fest.

But in the political pecking order, the governor comes first and will set the educational agenda, she said.

"Horne will need to take the lead from her," said Freed.

She believes the two leaders will agree on giving local communities more decision-making power and on pressuring school districts to reduce administration costs.

It would be ideal if Arizona's education challenges are met in a nonpartisan way. But the reality is that public education is politicized.

If Napolitano and Horne want to leave a legacy, they'll do it by jointly resolving our schools' ills.

It may not be lively. But fun may not be the top priority here.

* Contact Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 573-4242 or e-mail netopjr@azstarnet.com. He appears on "Arizona Illustrated," KUAT-TV Channel 6, at 6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Fridays.


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