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
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
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
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-8473.