Will ‘Year Of The Teacher’ Impact Chandler Races? - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Will ‘Year Of The Teacher’ Impact Chandler Races?

November 6th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Will ‘Year Of The Teacher’ Impact Chandler Races?

By Paul Maryniak And Cecilia Chan


It’s the year of the teacher this midterm election year as hundreds of current and former educators run for state offices around the country.

And to a small degree, that’s playing out in one of the two legislative districts covering Chandler, where the lone Democrat in a three-way race for the two State House seats is a longtime teacher – and a teacher of would-be teachers – hoping to score an upset against one of the two former Chandler City Council members running on the Republican ticket.

In LD 17, Jennifer Pawlik is taking on incumbent Jeff Weninger and newcomer Nora Ellen.

Pawlik taught for 17 years, the last nine of which have been in the Chandler Unified School District, and is a trainer of both public and charter school teachers for Spaulding Education International. She also teaches undergraduates in NAU’s College of Education on the campus of Chandler Gilbert Community College.

Ellen also is trying to make history by in effect creating a rare mother-son team in the State Legislature. She is the mother of J.D. Mesnard, who is termed out of the House and is seeking to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough. Trying to blunt that move is Steve Weichert, a Democrat who is clinical support director for the clinic in the Gila River Indian Community.

Weichert and Pawlik will be depending heavily on independents for any chance of a victory, since Republicans hold a 2-1 registration lead in District 16. Latest figures show 36,487 registered Republicans to 19,473 Democrats and 31,364 independents.

Republicans also hold an edge over Democrats in the Legislative District 18, the other district including the rest of Chandler as well as all of Ahwatukee and parts of Mesa and Tempe.

In LD18, Republicans dominated registration with 53,751, while registered independents number 49,711 – significantly higher than the 40,080 registered Democrats.

In that race, incumbent Democrat Mitzi Epstein of Tempe and Chandler nonprofit consultant Jennifer Jermaine are running against incumbent Ahwatukee Republican Jill Norgaard and Tempe attorney Greg Patterson, who is fighting to return to the legislature where he served in the mid-1990s.

But all eyes will be on that district’s Senate race where the most expensive of any legislative contest in the state is playing out.

In a replay of the 2016 election, incumbent Democrat Sean Bowie is vying for a second term against a fierce challenge by Tempe Republican Frank Schmuck. Combined, their campaigns have attracted more than $550,000 and have spent almost as much, according to the latest finance reports filed Oct. 29.

While none of the candidates in LD 18 are educators, all have been waging aggressive campaigns seeking to portray themselves as advocates for education.

“We are seeing a large number of teachers more than in the past running for office,” said Noah Karvelis, the co-founder of the grassroots Arizona Educators United, which fueled the Red for Ed movement in the state.

And naturally education is playing out heavily in another campaign in Chandler’s backyard – the six-way race for two seats on Chandler Unified School District’s governing board.

Five newcomers are competing with Bob Rice, 66, a retired Intel Corp. manager who is seeking a fifth four-year term.

Unlike Rice, Chandler school board president Annette Auxier, who has been on the district governing board since 1998, is not seeking reelection.

The other school board candidates are Joshua Askey, Lara Bruner, Noemy Esparza-Isaacson, Lindsay Love and Jim Robinson.

Askey, 47, is controller for CoAction Group, a medical facilities developer in Chandler. Bruner has been a teacher for 26 years, and now she teaches advanced placement and dual enrollment psychology, as well as history classes in the Tempe Union High School District.

Esparza-Isaacson is a singer, visual artist, Spanish teacher and IT professional who teaches ceramics at Tumbleweed Recreation Center, volunteers as an art teacher at Knox Gifted Academy and teaches Spanish to adults on her own.

Love, 33, is a licensed clinical social worker and 2003 Hamilton High graduate who manages a team of counselors and social workers that treat adolescents and their families at a nonprofit organization. She also counsels families through a private practice.

Robinson, 46, owns REIMidwest, LLC., a real estate development company.

According to the National Education Association, there are 554 current and retired educators across the country running for a state house or state senate seat. The candidates include 512 Democrats and 42 Republicans with slightly more than 56 percent women, according to the nationwide teachers’ union.

The NEA, taking heed of the Red for Ed wave, helped educators who wanted to run by putting them through a training program that included details about setting up a campaign, fundraising and communicating with voters.

Other prominent educators running for higher office in Arizona include Democrat David Garcia, an Arizona State University professor running for governor, and Kathy Hoffman, a school speech-language pathologist running for state superintendent of public education.

While many of the candidates in Chandler’s legislative districts have name recognition, Republicans are banking on a longtime trend in midterm-year elections: Republican voters are more likely to cast a ballot than Democrats.

In the last midterm election in 2014, statewide voter turnout was 47.52 percent, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

While no one knows how turnout will look this time around, secretary of state spokesman Matt Roberts said, “It’s impossible to tell with surety, but I think we’re looking at something between 50 percent to 60 percent.”

The Maricopa County Elections Department sent out 1.6 million ballots as of last week and received 678,289 back – or 40 percent – said Sophia Solis, department spokeswoman. She added that 7,631 people voted early in person at one of the county’s Vote Centers. Oct. 31 was the last day to return a ballot by mail.

Despite the uphill battle, the races are winnable, according to Karvelis, a music teacher at a Tolleson elementary school.

“Schools cut across all party lines,” he said. “Children’s education is not a partisan thing. If you make a list of esteemed professionals of people in Arizona, the U.S. and world, on top are teachers. If a teacher is knocking on your door for your vote, that transcends party politics.”

Arizona Educators United, which also includes school administrators and support staff, has been motivating teachers and their supporters to get out the vote.

“We’ve knocked on over 50,000 doors already,” Karvelis said. “And we’ll get another 30,000 in the last week.”

He said the goal is to knock on 80,000 doors and he believed it will be reached.

The group also is doing phone banking, meeting with candidates to hold them accountable and holding small rallies to kick off canvassing, according to Karvelis.

The teacher uprising for better pay and better working conditions first started in West Virginia and soon swept to other states such as Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Colorado.

Teachers and their supporters donned red shirts in solidarity, and in Arizona they marched on the state Capitol and teachers walked out of their classrooms.

The statewide five-day strike spurred Gov. Doug Ducey to sign a budget that boosts teacher salaries 20 percent by 2020.

That, however, was just a drop in the bucket for those who say education in Arizona is still woefully underfunded.

State lawmakers cut $1.5 billion in funding for K-12 education since the recession, according to AZ Schools Now, a coalition of educators, parents, school board members and children’s advocates.

An attempt to address that wrong came in the form of a ballot measure. Proposition 207, or The Invest in Education Act, sought to fund Arizona education to the tune of $690 million a year by taxing higher-income earners, but it was booted off November’s ballot after the state Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the measure’s wording was not clear.

That slap in the face further ignited education groups like Arizona Educators United to put out a call to put like-minded individuals into office.

“Anything can happen right now,” said Karvelis. “This cuts across party lines and party politics and gets down to where politics should be about, community.”