New education director isn’t afraid to take on party leadersBy Kerry Drake — September 3, 2013
I’ve been reading about Wyoming’s new education chief’s career in Arizona politics. I haven’t met Richard Crandall yet, but I kind of like this guy already. He’s a moderate Republican who battled his many far-right, crazy GOP colleagues in the Arizona Legislature, who were delighted to say adios when Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead hired him.
But Crandall threw a scare into them when he didn’t immediately resign from the Arizona Senate, even though he was already working as head of the Wyoming Department of Education. I was concerned about the ethics of that situation, and Crandall’s initial defense of his action — that he is a dedicated multi-tasker — rang pretty hollow.
His next stated reason for keeping his Arizona legislative position until the end of August made more sense. He explained that he has two children with pre-existing medical conditions, and he was concerned about continuity of coverage because his Wyoming health insurance wouldn’t start until September 1. It made no sense, though, after conservatives pointed out that no matter when he left the Legislature, he and his family would still be covered through August 31.
It turns out that Arizona doesn’t have a law that requires a legislator to actually live and/or work in the state he represents. I figure Richard Crandall probably wanted to tweak his political enemies one last time before officially jumping ship. They piled on him continuously for one perceived threat or another, so why not make them sweat out whether he would actually leave?
For anyone who might have worried that Wyoming educational issues will be dull now that Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill no longer has many of her powers, you can relax. Controversy seems to follow Crandall wherever he goes, and I’m sure that whatever he does or doesn’t do in his new job, he will have countless critics in the Equality State, too.
And if Hill manages to get the Wyoming Supreme Court to agree with her that the Legislature and Mead overstepped their constitutional authority by booting her out of her Hathaway Building office and turning her into a figurehead with no real power, things will get really exciting. Hill and Crandall have very different philosophies about public education, and she probably won’t like many of the changes he institutes.
Richard Crandall’s Arizona critics relentlessly blasted the former lawmaker for his solid support of Common Core State Standards backed by President Barack Obama, which they incorrectly view as usurping the state’s authority to set its own.
This is from the amusing right-wing S.H.I.E.L.D. blog, which stands for “Super Heroes Intent on Exposing Leftist Deceivers”: “Rich Crandall admits he has spent 5 years working alongside leftists intent on destroying our educational system and ‘equalizing’ outcomes. [Common Core State Standards] is FAR from a ‘state-led’ effort. It was conceived, written, implemented and funded by leftist organizations and an Obama Administration who’s (sic) goal is to ‘transform’ America using our children.”
There’s no shortage of people in Wyoming who feel the same way, as evidenced by last month’s panel sponsored by the Liberty Group that tried to hysterically brand Common Core as the end of education as we know it. I wish Crandall a lot of luck in calming that crowd.
Crandall had the wisdom to back the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, which marks the only good thing GOP Gov. Jan Brewer has accomplished. It made conservatives throughout Arizona apoplectic. So did Crandall’s move back to his original Senate district in 2012 after he was gerrymandered out of his seat by his own party. He went on to defeat a tea party favorite in the primary race, and won handily in the general election.
A blog named the Arizona Conservative complained in over-the-top fashion that Crandall “had a lot of favors to call in, and his friends helped him defeat conservative John Fillmore by some 600 votes. Crandall turned mud slinging and the politics of personal destruction into an art form with his filthy campaigning and negative direct mail war on Fillmore.”
Crandall was also accused of threatening a representative who allegedly saw his daughter vandalize a Fillmore sign, telling her via voice mail not to submit any education bills because he would just have them killed in the Education Committee he chaired. The legislator, also a Republican, filed an ethics complaint accusing Crandall of disorderly conduct, but a Senate ethics panel cleared him of any wrongdoing. He did, however, apologize for the incident.
During two legislative sessions, Richard Crandall’s penchant for missing votes was called into question. Serving as a representative in 2009, he missed two-thirds of the votes in the House. During his successful Senate run a year later, Crandall explained that he had told the House speaker when a special summer session was called that he was committed to work in New York for six weeks, but he flew back to Arizona twice for key votes.
Crandall also missed a lot of legislative work during this year’s session. His 64 percent attendance record was the worst in the Senate, but since he has a new job in Wyoming and won’t be running for re-election, he won’t need to address that issue.
Upon hearing that Mead appointed Crandall to the top education post in June, several of his perennial critics in Arizona pointed out that he didn’t have any experience as an educator. But Hill’s experience as a teacher and administrator didn’t exactly help her smoothly run the Wyoming DOE.
Actually, Crandall has a broad range of knowledge about education issues gained while serving in public office. He was the chairman of the Mesa school district’s board of trustees before he decided that if he really wanted to influence decisions on education issues, he should run for the Legislature. He became chairman of the Senate Education Committee, where his work drew praise from Gary Nelson of The Arizona Republic, who noted, “He’s been a champion for education reform in the Arizona Legislature and not afraid to stand against party leadership when he believed them to be in error.”
As a state senator, Crandall served on the Task Force on Educator Effectiveness and co-chaired the Task Force on School Dropout Prevention and Recovery. That experience should help him in Wyoming, which is striving to bring accountability and better results to match the major infusion of money devoted to education in the state.
In tapping Crandall for the new education position, Mead pointed out that he worked with the Digital Learning Commission, a national panel established by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, which “has given him special insight into classroom instruction and uses of technology.
“Richard’s philosophy of supporting our students and schools with a bottom-up approach matches well with our culture,” the governor added. “He will bring fresh ideas to Wyoming to compliment the great things that are happening in our local schools and to offer solutions where we need improvement.”
I suspect that Crandall’s overall experience as a legislator in Arizona will work to his advantage in Wyoming. He should be able to avoid the pitfalls that Hill didn’t when she started her job and immediately began picking fights with lawmakers who controlled her budget. Lawmakers who voted to strip Hill of her powers also have a vested interest in showing that they will work in tandem with a new education official who shares their goals.
Crandall has repeatedly called running the Wyoming DOE his “dream job.” In a news release shortly after his arrival in Cheyenne, he said, “The Legislature, the governor and the State Board [of Education] are all on the same page with where they want to go with education. The number of states that have all three of those groups on the same page can be counted on one hand.”
I like the fact that Crandall isn’t an ideologue intent on pushing a far-right agenda on education, and that he showed considerable courage in standing up to the leadership of his party in Arizona on many issues, including health care reform and immigration. He’s taken positions I would question, such as his strong support for charter schools, but I’ll take him at his word that he’s interested in fully exploring whatever helps kids get better results in the classroom.
I expect that Crandall will continue to be controversial and ruffle feathers in his wake, because that seems to be part of his nature. But I hope that during his tenure as head of the Wyoming Department of Education, the drastic turmoil that proceeded him — due largely to Hill’s inexperience and unfortunate missteps with her staff and legislators — will become a distant memory.
Richard Crandall may indeed be an excellent multi-tasker, but I’ll be happy if he turns all of his attention to Wyoming education for as long as he’s here.— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com. — Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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