Original URL: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/arizona/articles/1018ruelas18.html

Molera lost vote but ends up winner

By Richard Ruelas
Republic columnist Oct. 18, 2002

It would have made sense for Jaime Molera's political career to end this week with him labeling one out of five public schools as "underperforming."

But Molera didn't have to worry about the rankings affecting his bid to be re-elected superintendent of public instruction.

That hope was ended more than a month ago when Molera lost the Republican primary to Tom Horne.

He's not bitter about it. Sitting over breakfast at the Matador restaurant in downtown Phoenix, he seems quite at ease.

He's not sure what he will be doing when he leaves the job in January. He says he wants to "maximize income and minimize stress," which pretty much eliminates any job in government.

"I don't think I'll run for office again," he says.

This was Molera's first campaign. The longtime behind-the-scenes policymaker was appointed to the superintendent's job after Lisa Graham Keegan abruptly quit.

Keegan left behind a political land mine of issues, not the least of which was the AIMS test, which high school students needed to pass for graduation.

It's to Molera's credit that he didn't lose because of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards.

He defused the controversy by delaying the year it was required. At the same time, he set accountability standards that promise to give the state an accurate picture of how schools are doing.

That led to the release this week of the list of "underperforming," "maintaining" and "improving" schools across the state, a list that could have been Molera's undoing on the campaign trail had he not been undone alr eady by a blitz of unfair
political ads.

Horne went on TV and blasted Molera for being lax on implementing the voter-approved ban on bilingual education. It wasn't true. Molera had talked about the need to tighten the exemption loopholes, but Horne was able to get his message repeated so often that it stuck with voters.

"He had the money for polling data," Molera says. "He did polling to tell him what that message should be."

Molera ran as a Clean Elections candidate, and that ended up hurting him. The ceiling on the public funds he could receive was not enough to buy the TV time that Horne's self-financed campaign could.

The Republican Party bought some radio ads with Sen. Jon Kyl defending Molera, but it wasn't enough.

"When he was hitting me on TV, there was no money (for me) to go on TV."

The attention surrounding the campaign has died down. Horne is battling state Sen. Jay Blanchard in the general election, but neither has bought television ads. And Horne has stopped making bilingual education the centerpiece of his campaign.

"What's interesting is since (Horne) won, he hasn't mentioned that issue."

Molera isn't endorsing either candidate. "I have a problem with Blanchard's stances, and I have a problem with Horne's character."

So here is Molera, a conservative Republican who believes in school choice and school accountability and who somehow lost in Arizona.

He's quite possibly the first victim of Clean Elections, but maybe losing wasn't such a bad thing.

"I don't think anybody realizes how bad this budget deficit will be," he says.

"Maybe it's a blessing in disguise."

Reach Ruelas at richard.ruelas@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8473.


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