More and more people are demanding that Arizona’s top school official step down after he admitted to publishing a string of anonymous blog posts calling for a statewide ban on the Spanish language.
The superintendent of public instruction, Republican John Huppenthal, used an online alias to rant against Spanish speakers on a conservative-leaning website shortly after he was elected to office in 2010. “We all need to stomp out balkanization. No Spanish radio stations, no Spanish billboards, no Spanish TV stations, no Spanish newspapers,” wrote Huppenthal, adding, “This is America, speak English.”
“I don’t mind them selling Mexican food as long as the menus are mostly in English. And, I’m not being humorous or racist,” he said.
Additional posts recently surfaced in which Huppenthal anonymously referred to welfare recipients as “lazy pigs” and claimed F.D.R.’s economic policies helped Hitler rise to power. He confirmed he was the author of the posts in an interview with the Arizona Republic last week.
Former Arizona superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan has joined in the chorus calling for Huppenthal’s resignation. “You can’t hold the position of superintendent of schools and be saying things that sound disdainful of the people that you serve, you can’t do that,” she said. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which planned to host an awards show celebrating Huppenthal, has also condemned the superintendent’s offensive remarks. “Due to the recent comments that Superintendent Huppenthal admitted to making, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry will not be presenting the superintendent with an award at our annual luncheon as we had planned,” stated the chamber’s CEO and president, Glenn Hamer.
In light of the comments, the Chamber will likely refrain from endorsing Huppenthal, who is up for re-election this year. But Huppenthal isn’t convinced that his controversial Internet presence will hurt his chances. “In eight of my 12 elections, I have had to walk through fire,” he said. “I don’t get into this to get along.”
David Lujan, a former state senator, pointed out that Huppenthal’s comments target a large percentage of the students he was elected to serve. “It’s very troubling when you consider I believe more than 40 percent of our public school population are Latino students.” According to the 2010 Census, nearly 40 percent of Arizona residents speak Spanish, and one in five youths between ages 5 and 17 speaks Spanish.
This is not the first time Huppenthal has rejected accusations of discrimination. In 2010, the government nearly brought a civil-rights lawsuit against Arizona after the state fired teachers for having accents. While the state agreed to go back to following federal guidelines for testing English fluency, Huppenthal vowed to continue instructing classroom monitors to report teachers with accents.
As a state senator, Huppenthal led a campaign to ban Tucson’s largest school district from continuing its Mexican-American Studies program set up under a decades-old desegregation case. He accused the program, which was linked to increased high-school graduation rates and improved academic performance, of fostering “racial resentment.” As superintendent, Huppenthal threatened to suspend 10 percent of the school district’s budget, forcing the district to discontinue the program’s classes on Latino and African American history in 2012.
Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.