Jaime Molera, the GOP incumbent for state superintendent of instruction, is arguably in a tough primary race.

We should care if he loses.

No, this does not constitute an endorsement. Molera faces able GOP opposition in both Tom Horne, a former legislator, and Keith Bee, a state senator.

But in the nearly three years I’ve been here, I’ve come to take it as an article of faith that Republicans rule. Literally, that is, and not in the way kids use the term. And GOP incumbents rule most of all.

Molera was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Lisa Graham Keegan, who went off to a think tank. Still, he’s the GOP guy in office and the job title will appear under his name on the ballot.

So there must be something here that makes some in the GOP view him as vulnerable.

Maybe it’s his short time in office. Gov. Hull appointed him only 14 months ago.

But wait: Betsey Bayless, our current secretary of state and now running for governor, had been appointed to office only a short time but captured it easily come election.

Maybe Molera isn’t really an incumbent. OK, then neither was Jane Hull.

She ascended to office after Fife Symington’s conviction and had no serious challenge in her GOP primary.

Well, maybe it’s that Molera has really botched the job so far. Nope.

Simply, Molera is viewed as vulnerable because he’s Latino. And, at 33, he’s young (but not inexperienced).

This does not make Horne or Bee racist or ageist. Just realists. Using bilingual education as an issue here, as Horne has done, is arguably just part of that political reality. Just as arguably not, however.

Horne has charged that Molera is not doing enough to enforce the initiative that banned bilingual education in Arizona. The problem: Molera’s been doing substantive things to deal with the difficulties faced by English learners and the initiative really didn’t give the department enforcement responsibilities. More than that, however, bilingual education is a wedge issue that excites for all the wrong reasons and has the effect in this case of reminding voters that there is a Latino in the race.

Horne, according to his Web site, supports English immersion and says separately that, if Keegan were running for re-election, this would still be one of his campaign issues.

But two years ago, in a questionnaire for this newspaper’s Editorial Board, Horne wrote, “I have been a strong proponent of limiting bilingual education to no more than four years. In some cases, bilingual can help students keep up with other courses as they learn English. However, there have been abuses, whereby bilingual education becomes an excuse to make inadequate efforts to teach English with sufficient intensity. I am continuing to study this tradeoff and have not decided how I will vote on the proposition.”

So, he believed that bilingual education had its uses, that at least four years of it was OK, and he was indecisive about eliminating it. But now he’s a strong English-immersion advocate. He says the research has swayed him. That research, however, is hotly disputed. He knows this.

But you know, there are better ways to point out differences than sharing a podium with Ron Unz and accepting his endorsement, as Horne did. Unz is the guy who bankrolls anti-bilingual education initiatives and is a lightning rod for much ire in the Latino community.

Afterward, Horne gave back Unz’s $1,000 donation. This after Unz said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was “the dimmest member” of the Bush Cabinet and got his job because of “affirmative access” and because he’s a “Black former football coach.” Some thought this to be racist. They’re right.

I know some folks in the Latino community disagree, but I don’t believe that Horne is anti-Latino. I do believe, however, that his bilingual education gambit was as unnecessary and ill-advised as the ballot initiative in the first place.

If you’re Republican, vote for the best person. But remember: Arizona re-elected Symington even though he was under investigation for business practices for which he was ultimately prosecuted and convicted. (The conviction was then overturned and he got pardoned before he could be retried.) I didn’t make up these rules about GOP incumbency.

Make exceptions with Molera and it’s fair to wonder why.

Reach Pimentel at ricardo.pimentel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.



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