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Arizona Superintendent Of Public Instruction-Elect Kathy Hoffman Talks Priorities

Kathy Hoffman
Justin Stabley/KJZZ
Kathy Hoffman.

LAUREN GILGER: It's been a week since the midterm elections and more races are being called, including the closely watched U.S. Senate race. Last night, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema became the first woman to win a Senate seat in Arizona. She addressed supporters in Scottsdale and said Arizonans chose a path focused on the issues that really matter to Arizona families, and not on divisive party politics.

KYSTEN SINEMA: We can work with people who are different than us. We can be friends with people who are different than us. We can love and care about people who are different than us. We can keep people who are different than us safe. We can be good people, who care deeply about each other, even when we disagree.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: On election night, Sinema was behind Republican Martha McSally. But, as votes have continued to be counted, the Democrat pulled ahead. Last night she was nearly 40,000 votes ahead of her opponent. McSally posted a concession speech on her Twitter account congratulating Sinema on the victory.

MARTHA MCSALLY: And I am convinced Arizona is the best state in the country, and our best days are still yet to come. And, I'm going to continue to pray for our success. Thank you so much. 

GILGER: And late yesterday, another Arizona Democrat was declared the winner in a major race. The Associated Press has called the race for Arizona's superintendent of public instruction for Kathy Hoffman. As we speak, she's ahead of her Republican opponent Frank Riggs by more than 50,000 votes. Riggs has not yet publicly conceded the race, and it's been a tight one. Hoffman was also behind on election night, and has pulled ahead in the last several days as more votes were counted. And, she joins us now in studio to talk more about this close race and what she plans to do next when she takes office next year. Good morning, superintendent elect.

KATHY HOFFMAN: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

GILGER: Yeah, so, let's start with just your reaction to this. This must have been quite a roller coaster.

HOFFMAN: It has been, and in some ways I think I appreciate it that much more because when I went to bed on Tuesday night I was down about 11,000 votes. And so over the past couple of days, to see that the numbers and the votes trending in my direction. I honestly feel so humbled and privileged to be in this position that I am now and very excited to get to work in January.

GILGER: Yeah, so, I know we spoke on election night when you were a little bit behind. And, you said at the time that you were surprised that the race was this tight especially because of the #RedForEd movement and the teacher support that you had. So, is this more what you expected — this kind of outcome, or are you still surprised by how close it was?

HOFFMAN: This is definitely more what I expected. And I think what's become more clear over the past days, as we've looked at the turnout for the other elections and who is pulling ahead, it's very clear to me that people were crisscrossing on their ballot. Where as many people might have voted for a Republican governor, but then they crossed to vote for me. And, that's more what I was expecting to see was for people to think independently and to consider education in a different way.

GOLDSTEIN: You mentioned that Republican governor. And it's not necessarily vital that the superintendent work well with the governor, but the governor has decided to step into wanted to do more education — more focus on that. Is it important the two of you work together? Do you expect him to reach out? Are you going to reach out to him?

HOFFMAN: I would love for us to work well together because at the end of the day we both want what's best for Arizona students, and what's best for the future of Arizona including our economy. And, I think that starts with our public education system. And, I do plan to reach out to his office. And, we're already getting in touch with making some of those meetings. And, I think that is important because I want to be successful as superintendent, and part of being successful is working with the Legislature and the governor.

GILGER: So, speaking of the Legislature you're also going to be working with a majority Republican Legislature — although the margins are a little tighter in the house than they used to be. How do you plan on working across party lines in that sense?

HOFFMAN: Well, I plan to start by focusing on issues where there is bipartisan agreement. Right now we are hearing that there is definitely room for agreement on charter school reforms — we've heard that signaled from the Governor's Office as well as many legislative Republicans as well. And, so that's a good place to start. It's going to be a tricky one to nail down where we can find all the agreements, but there is a huge public demand for more accountability and transparency of our charter schools.

GOLDSTEIN: Kathy what are you thinking in terms of funding? You don't have to have a plan you going to lay out for us in the studio, but in terms of — we saw Invest in Ed not get on the ballot. There is a lot of agreement that there has to be something done, a broad agreement to whether it's raising sales tax or some other form of tax, how big a priority is that for you even in just speeches that you're going to make that we need to find more revenue sources?

HOFFMAN: It will be critically important because the funding has to be there if we want to hire more support staff, if we want to retain our highly trained highly qualified teachers. When I have traveled this day out to rural Arizona, they are in desperate need of additional funding for transportation, as well as buildings and infrastructure. So it will be a huge priority, and we all need to come to the table together to figure this out.

GILGER: So, I want to ask lastly then about some other top priorities you have going forward. I know we spoke initially when you were in the primary race for this for this position that this is you know it's an administrative role — there is an advocacy element to it, but what's your day one — what are you going to start doing?

HOFFMAN: Day one, within the Department of Education, is we're going to be working on building morale within the department. There has been many very dedicated staff working there over the past years. We want to make sure that they feel valued. I also plan to do a comprehensive line by line audit of the Department of Education to make sure that all of the spending is accounted for. And, I expect to be held accountable too to the voters. And that there are no mistakes going forward — that all of our taxpayer dollars is being well spent within the Department of Education.

GOLDSTEIN: Kathy, finally for me, has it sunk in yet? I mean, the idea that this is, the race has been going on for a long time. You've been involved, you won a primary, then you had the general election — and now you really have to get to work. Obviously you're excited about that, but is it daunting at the same time?

HOFFMAN: It's a good question. In some ways I've been thinking about this moment for almost two years now, and picturing what that would look like — thinking deeply about what my priorities would be for our education system moving forward. But, at the same time it's surreal because I've loved my job as an educator in our schools, and I have given up that career in order to take this completely different direction in my life to become someone who is representative of all of our public schools. But, my goal is to be someone that our state can be proud of, to take our state in the right direction, to have positive pro public education messaging talking about the achievements of our teachers and our students. And, so that's my goal is to be that someone we can be proud of going forward for our Department of Education.

GILGER: All right. Kathy Hoffman will be the next superintendent of public instruction for our state. Kathy, thank you so much for coming in.

HOFFMAN: Thank you for having me.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.