PHOENIX — Campaign signs are clustered on street corners and highway ramps across this low-slung, sun-baked city, proclaiming “#YesforEd” and “Protect Public Education.” In TV commercials, the Republican governor promises to “put more money in the classroom, not bureaucracy.” “Our schools are falling apart,” his Democratic challenger counters.
Six months after tens of thousands of red-clad teachers swarmed the Arizona Capitol in a weeklong walkout, demanding higher pay and more funding for schools, education is a dominant issue in the state’s elections next month.
The teachers’ protest movement, which calls itself #RedforEd, has transformed the political battleground. The movement remains so popular in Arizona that candidates and causes across the ideological spectrum are competing to identify with it — including conservatives who, in years past, might have been more likely to criticize teachers or unions than associate with activist educators.
That has left some Democrats — teachers’ traditional allies — scrambling to differentiate themselves.
It is a pattern that has played out in several states where teachers have walked off the job this year, including Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky. The teachers’ movement has energized Democrats in red states, with record numbers of educators running for office. But it may have had an even greater impact on Republican politics. In primaries, it has picked off Republican legislators who opposed funding for teachers and schools. And it has convinced conservative leaders that voters, particularly suburban parents, are looking for full-throated support, and open pocketbooks, for public education.
In Arizona, which has some of the lowest school funding in the nation, nowhere are these issues more prominent than in the governor’s race. Both candidates have claimed the mantle of education champion.
“I’m the one who’s been on the side of the teacher,” Gov. Doug Ducey, the Republican incumbent, said in an interview at his campaign headquarters last week.
Before his state’s teachers threatened to walk out, Mr. Ducey had offered them a 1 percent raise. But under pressure from the #RedforEd movement, he eventually proposed and signed a bill promising a 20 percent pay hike by 2020.