Attacks against Arizona governor candidate David Garcia intensify as primary nears

With the primary election less than three weeks away, Republicans and Democrats alike are stepping up attacks against candidate David Garcia, the apparent Democratic frontrunner in the race for governor.

Millions of dollars — and thousands of words — have been devoted to taking Garcia down, suggesting he is viewed as a legitimate threat across party lines. 

Garcia is set to face challengers Kelly Fryer and state Sen. Steve Farley in the Aug. 28 primary, with the winner likely confronting incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in November. Farley has out-raised Garcia, according to campaign-finance reports, but Garcia is leading in the polls.

Over the last week and a half, opponents have portrayed Garcia as a hypocrite and flip-flopper, challenging his commitment to public schools and law enforcement

They have questioned his hiring process after a campaign employee was revealed to have posted controversial comments on Twitter, including calling the U.S. a “s—thole country,” and supporting the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

And they have scrutinized Garcia’s writings and public remarks, alternately casting him as too radical and too “establishment.”

Here’s a look at the hits his campaign has taken recently and how Garcia has responded.

Campaign staffer’s tweets

The attack: A blog post published Thursday by “PJ Media” called out Garcia’s digital director, Xenia Orona, for what it described as “anti-Arizona, anti-America, and anti-police tweets.”

The post included a screenshot of a Nov. 6, 2012 tweet that said, “An open letter to Arizona: F— you.” Another screenshot showed a May 23, 2018, tweet that said, “ICE is abusive and needs to be abolished. But also, watch me speak exclusively Spanish in public at every given opportunity.”

Orona also used the hashtag #ftp, or “f–k the police.”

On Friday morning, members of law-enforcement associations held a press conference in Phoenix to denounce what they viewed as Garcia’s complicity in “anti-police rhetoric.”

The response: “The language and the message of the tweets are not in line with the values and message of our campaign,” said Sarah Elliot, Garcia’s campaign spokeswoman. “The staff person involved offered her resignation, and our campaign accepted it.” 

Elliot said Garcia “has the utmost respect for law enforcement and security and military.”

“He’s an Army veteran himself,” she said.

School-choice book

The attack: A political-blog post also published Thursday painted Garcia’s upcoming book as a “blueprint to dismantle public education,” suggesting Garcia’s stated commitment to the public-school system is insincere.

The author of the post described Garcia’s book, set for a Sept. 28 release, as a “how-to playbook for the anti-public-school, pro-school-voucher agenda pushed by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Koch brothers.” 

He described Garcia as a “Manchurian candidate,” which he defined as “a person running for office who publicly supports one group to win an election, but who uses his executive or legislative powers to assist an opposing group.”

Critics: Book by David Garcia aims to ‘dismantle public education’

The response: In a statement, Garcia said he “wrote a book about school choice issues for MIT press that is an academic treatment laying out the arguments for and against school policies in as neutral a way as possible.”

“It does not present any policy recommendations or detail my personal opinions,” he said. “…These are politically motivated attacks by my primary opponents and their supporters who are becoming increasingly desperate.”

The Republic‘s examination of the 196-page book revealed a text akin to an academic primer, rather than a fervent defense of public-school alternatives.

In the book, Garcia devotes several pages to laying out a history of U.S. schooling options before outlining and analyzing the views of each option’s proponents and critics in detail. He repeatedly stresses impartiality within the text.

12 News square-off 

The attack: In a 12 News debate broadcast online Friday, reporter and moderator Brahm Resnik asked each Democratic candidate to identify “one thing either of your opponents have said that you would like to hear them flesh out or explain right now.”

Both Fryer and Farley took aim at Garcia.

“I think I want to know, who’s the real David Garcia?” Fryer said. “In forums, you’ve said that you oppose ending the death penalty and then walked that back. You’ve said you want to abolish ICE, and then you’ve walked that back. And you’ve talked about your support for public schools, but we know your history with the charter school movement.”

“I mean, I like both of you,” she quipped.

Farley asked Garcia about his work under Lisa Graham Keegan, a former state superintendent and school-choice advocate who pushed for school vouchers.

“You’ve said alternately that that was an executive position, and then you said it was just doing data,” Farley said. “Executive position says that maybe you were doing strategy for Lisa Graham Keegan. … Which one is it?”

The response: Garcia told Fryer he had “been consistent in my positions the entire time.”

“With respect to charter schools in 2014, I was clear that we needed more transparency and accountability on behalf of charter schools and some more flexibility on behalf of traditional public schools,” he said. “That position hasn’t changed.

“I’ve said from the very beginning that I want to replace ICE with an immigration system that works. That has always been my stance,” he said. “And I oppose the death penalty. Those have been consistent positions I have taken from the very beginning.”

Regarding Farley’s question, Garcia said he had held two positions at the state Department of Education: director of research, “where I worked on exciting research like our dropout rate, our graduation rate and school report cards,” and associate superintendent for standards and accountability, “which is an executive position.”

Garcia declined Resnik’s offer to ask one of his opponents to elaborate on previous statements.

Netroots speech, dinner

The attack: During a speech at progressive political convention Netroots Nation, Garcia made a comment later interpreted as a call for a fully open border between the U.S. and Mexico.

“Just imagine, no wall,” he said. “No wall in southern Arizona.”

He also was criticized for appearing at a Latino Victory Project dinner with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old who defeated longtime Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary.

Ocasio-Cortez has been portrayed as a radical leftist after advocating for the abolishment of ICE and supporting concepts such as free college tuition and guaranteed jobs.

The response: Garcia told Republic columnist Laurie Roberts that he wasn’t calling for the removal of existing border barriers in his Netroots remarks.

“I was talking about what everybody is talking about when you mention the wall: Trump’s wall,” he told Roberts. “If you look at the context, this is clearly about Trump’s wall.”

Of the dinner with Ocasio-Cortez, Elliot said Garcia “is running on his own values.”

“There were a lot of candidates at that table. … David does not agree with everything from everyone at that table, nor does he disagree with everything,” she said. “There’s room in this tent, in our opinion, for everyone.”

Did Arizona governor candidate David Garcia just call for an open border?

ICE-related attack ads

The attack: The Republican Governors Association has funneled more than $7 million into opposition efforts targeting Garcia, including ads focused on the idea that he wants to abolish ICE.

The ads imply eliminating ICE would allow the proliferation of drugs, gangs and sex trafficking.

Ducey campaign paints Democrat David Garcia as supporter of #AbolishICE

The response: Garcia has avoided the word “abolish,” saying he wants to replace ICE with “an immigration system that reflects our American values.” 

“Ripping kids from their parents, having them represent themselves in court are not our values,” he told The Republic.

He said the “Abolish ICE” concept alone is oversimplifying a complex debate and is not “providing a solution to this issue.”

Tolleson appearance

The attack: Garcia, an associate professor at Arizona State University, was invited to give a presentation on test scores at a school-year kickoff event for the Tolleson Union High School District. Teacher attendance was mandatory. 

Garcia had delivered a similar presentation the previous year, before he began actively campaigning for governor. A school-district spokesperson said officials mentioned Garcia’s candidacy while introducing him at this year’s event, but they did not pay him to appear. 

A former Tolleson district school board member, after hearing about the event from a teacher, called the July 31 lecture by Garcia an improper use of taxpayer money.

Candidate David Garcia’s talk to teachers raises questions

The response: Garcia said he was invited because of his educational expertise. He said the event was not campaign-related.

“Oh my gosh, no,” he told The Republic. “I analyzed their data.”

Garcia said he presented five or six slides that showed the district’s scores on AzMERIT, the mandatory school-standards test. Garcia said he “didn’t mention the campaign at all.” Nor did he recall anyone else saying it.

He said he made a similar presentation a few months ago at the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce.

“I was invited (by the district) because I’m a national education expert,” he said. 

Republic reporter Richard Ruelas contributed to this article.

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