GOP never acted on speech at Tucson High
Arizona Daily Star
May 17, 2007

 

By Daniel Scarpinato

ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

PHOENIX It was hard to miss the fury surrounding the statement "Republicans hate Latinos" that union activist Dolores Huerta made at Tucson High Magnet School last year.

And Republican lawmakers, led by Tucson Rep. Jonathan Paton, got equal attention by calling for hearings at the Capitol and an opinion from Attorney General Terry Goddard on whether any laws were broken.

But despite all the talk from Paton and his GOP colleagues, no one ever followed through on requesting that ruling.

Instead, it was a request from Tucson Rep. Phil Lopes, the Democratic minority leader, that resulted in an opinion this week about a year after Republicans organized a committee hearing at the state Capitol.

Goddard, a Democrat, said public schools can invite speakers on pending ballot issues, as long as the schools don't try to influence an election.

The Huerta incident made national news, and the legislative hearings were covered statewide.

But as upset as those lawmakers said they were, not one Republican followed through on the GOP's stated goal of an AG's opinion on whether TUSD broke the law by allowing Huerta to advocate a political agenda, and then leaving the audio on the district Web site.

The situation was compounded by the fact it came at around the same time Tucson and Phoenix students participated in walkouts to protest immigration reform. In addition to advocating Democratic causes and praising Hugo Chavez, the socialist president of Venezuela, Huerta encouraged students to participate in leaving school.

Paton even appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News to publicize Huerta's comments. Now, Paton says he asked the staff in the state House to send the request to the attorney general last May, but records indicate they never did so.

"We do not have any formal request from Mr. Paton," said Andrea Esquer, Attorney General's Office spokeswoman.

Paton says he's not sure what happened. "I told the staff to do it," he said. "I remember asking somebody ... to have it done."

Paton says he forgot to follow up, in part, because of the November election and his deployment to Iraq for six months as an Army intelligence officer.

But he said the fact the request was never submitted does not take away from the impact of the hearings, which he said put public pressure on TUSD.

He also may still make his request, he said, since the opinion issued this week does not address whether the district broke the law by keeping the speech on its Web site.

"It's not really for the benefit of punishing TUSD, it's for the benefit of understanding how this system should work," he said. "I just completely forgot about it with the fact that it took so darn long."

Former Rep. John Allen, the Republican who chaired last year's committee, said part of the reason a request was never made was that he knew what Goddard's opinion would be.

"There isn't a lot of confidence in our attorney general," said Allen. "That might have been a factor. Why send a dead letter?"

Rep. Steve Gallardo, a Phoenix Democrat and House minority whip, says Republicans were simply grandstanding. Gallardo, a school board member in a Phoenix district, was on last year's committee and remains critical of what Paton did, especially after learning the request was never made.

"It was just a way for Jonathan Paton to have some sort of political platform," he said Wednesday. "He tries to pick these different issues to gain media exposure, to make it look to his constituents like he's doing something."

Gallardo accused Paton of doing the same thing with Child Protective Services, since he has organized closed-door hearings to review two Tucson cases in which children died.

But Paton said that in both cases, with TUSD and CPS, his efforts have resulted in action, though not legislation.

Paton said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would require districts to post guest speakers' speeches on their Web sites if audio or video is recorded. He also wants to require that parents be notified in advance of guest speakers, allowing students to opt out.

 

● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 307-4339 or dscarpinato@azstarnet.com