Two Seats, 10 Candidates

Your guide to the TUSD school board race­—or, in the case of Michael Hicks, "The Magical Burrito Tour"

With the contentious Sunnyside Unified School District governing board recall election behind us, the next school board election to pay attention to is Tucson Unified School District.

If it's anything like the TUSD 2012 election, voters will have another cast of characters to choose from (See "The District's Dozen," Sept. 20, 2012). Ten potential candidates filed campaign financial statements with the Pima County Recorder's office in order to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the Nov. 14, 2014 general election ballot.

In 2012, three incumbents were in the race—Mark Stegeman, Miguel Cuevas and Alexandre Sugiyama. Stegeman was the only incumbent to win his seat back, with then-candidates Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez filling the other vacancies and creating a three-way majority voting block with Adelita Grijalva.

Grijalva, a TUSD board member for more than 10 years, is going for another term. Michael "Burritos are Magical" Hicks is the other incumbent reportedly readying another run. Let's pause for a moment to remember Hicks' Daily Show appearance in 2012 when interviewed by Al Madrigal on the district's dismantled Mexican-American studies program.

Hicks shared that he thought MAS teachers feeding students burritos in the classes was part of a bonding/brainwashing technique, and for good measure to make Tucson proud he identified civil rights icon Rosa Parks as "Rose Clark." So, yeah, that guy's running again.

The expectation for 2014 candidates who've filed campaign financial statements is that the candidates will start the collection of petition signatures. Filing period for those signatures opens July 7 and closes Aug. 6 at 5 p.m.

Those who've filed statements for the two incumbents' seats are: David King, Debi Campos-Fleenor, Rene Bernal, Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, Don Cotton, Jenifer Darland, Francis Saitta and Miguel Cuevas (yes, former TUSD school board member Miguel Cuevas).

This is a nonpartisan election, but a majority in the progressive Baja Arizona-sphere are saying they hope Grijalva returns to her seat, with others wondering if voters will ask what's she's accomplished her 10 years in office during the tumultuous MAS battle, a revolving door of superintendents and a continuing desegregation legal case. Filling Hicks' seat is going to be a box-checking challenge for voters because some prefer Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, who ran but lost in 2012; and they also like Jen Darland, a public education advocate affiliated with the Arizona Education Network.

Darland and Putnam-Hidalgo have children in TUSD schools and both are undeniably supporters of public education. Also remarkable about both candidates is their knowledge of the district. During Putnam-Hidalgo's last campaign, she questioned how TUSD would use the schools it closed the end of 2012, suggesting solar power projects and community or childcare centers (and some of those things actually happened!). Darland is a fighter, too, and especially knowledgeable about our crazyland state Legislature (See "Ethics 101," May 28, 2009).

Other returning candidates who ran in 2012 include Don Cotton and Debe Campos-Fleenor. New to the fun of running for an unpaid gig is Pima Community College instructor Francis Saitta, who ran for the PCC governing board in 2012 (See "The Issue of Admission," Oct. 18, 2012). Back then, it was difficult to get the college candidate to agree to an interview unless all candidates (incumbents, too) were asked the same exact questions and only by email, which is against Tucson Weekly policy.

"An interview, under those circumstances, is inherently unfair, and, as a comparative of candidate positions, uninformative. All candidates should be asked the same question. Otherwise one introduces tendentiousness into the interview process," he wrote to us back then.

Tune in come August, when signatures are turned in and confirmed, and we know who makes it on the November ballot.

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