The Ugly Political Sock Puppetry of Arizona’s Top Educator

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 6.18.50 PMDespite the obvious heat surplus and water shortage issues, Arizona continues to be one of the most growth intensive states, and has pegged much of its future on what can be loosely called “smart sectors” such as information technology, solar, chip making and, indeed, higher education itself as evidenced by the recent Starbucks/Arizona State University partnership.

You would think, given the above factors, and many more, Arizonans would be meticulous and scrupulous about the leaders they elect to shepherd the state’s educational system. But you would be wrong.

The power and control of Arizona’s education system rests in the hands of an elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Sadly, it has been a position occupied by common, and morally bankrupt, conservative political hacks of late. From 2003 through 2011, the office, the fifth highest elected office in Arizona, was held by Tom Horne, the current embattled Attorney General of Arizona. Horne was a line construction lawyer who up and got elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. But, hey, how much worse is that than when a podunk lawn mower repairman got elected Maricopa County Sheriff (which was before the office went totally into the sewer with former travel agent Joe Arpaio).

Okay, Horne was awful as Superintendent of Public Instruction (and has disgraced the office of AG even worse since), but once he left, one John Huppenthal was elected to cover the educational interests of Arizona’s children. And since January 2011, Huppenthal has been the one in charge of Arizona’s education.

Who is John Huppenthal? Pretty much an up through the ranks of the bat shit crazy Arizona state legislature right wing political climber. People who lived in Huppenthal’s district in the late 90’s, when he was an Arizona State Senator, can attest that the man compulsively and inexplicably robo-called with all kinds of dogmatic messages, at all hours of the day and night. To the point to where some literally were forced to contact his office and threaten suit if it did not stop on their phone. Huppenthal and his office were stunningly cavalier and arrogant about Huppenthal’s compulsive robo-calling. Yet he took to it again as Superintendent of Public Instruction in an effort to undermine the public schools he was entrusted with protecting and, instead, cravenly support private vouchers taking money away from public schools.

Such is great flavor as to the “measure of the man” that is John Huppenthal, but still mostly ancient history. How has the aggressively dogmatic Huppenthal done as Superintendent of Public Instruction, i.e. Arizona’s top educator? Same old story; same old song and dogmatic nutjob dance. You may remember the controversy over “banned textbooks” by the Tucson Unified School District a little over two years ago from the somewhat hyperbolic and inaccurate “Jeff Biggers Salon expose“. Well, that whole ordeal, contrary to Biggers’ Salon framing, was never the fault of the Tucson Unified School District, but, was nearly completely the doing of the compulsively dogmatic conservative John Huppenthal. That is who John Huppenthal is.

To sum up, Arizona is a growing state, aggressively seeking the educated, who in turn want quality education for their young. Instead we give them the likes of Tom Horne and John Huppenthal. As a result, Arizona, for all the luster, is lagging pathetically in education because of dogmatically blinded and visionless leaders.

So, who is this “education leader” John Huppenthal that has led Arizona to barely be above Mississippi and Arkansas in the bottom ten of American education? Well, as hinted above, he is an obsessive/compulsive right wing political animal. And, it turns out, his compulsive behavior is so obsessive that it carries well over into his duties as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the form of Huppenthal being an obsessive political sock puppet blog troll.

Okay, granted, political blog sock puppets are a dime a dozen, or, you know, less. But it is a far different story when multiple anonymous sock puppets are being run by a major state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. In this case Arizona’s one and only John Huppenthal. From Bob Lord, who has done yeoman’s work on this at Blog For Arizona:

Okay, for the few of you who have not figured this out yet, by all indication our friend Thucky is John Huppenthal, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is the fifth highest elected office in the state.

This may be a first. I don’t know of any other elected official who has led a double life as a serial blog troll besides John Huppenthal. Chalk that up to Arizona having the market cornered on political craziness, I guess.

The story here is that Blog For Arizona is a small, but quite important and statewide, progressive political blog in Arizona. For years it has taken on the assortment of right wing “conservative” nut jobs that have been dragging Arizona’s present, and future, down. Including, of course, John Huppenthal. For quite some time, a couple of aggressively defiant and apologetic “commenters” have appeared at Blog for Arizona to defend Huppenthal under, at a minimum, the screen names “Thucydides” and “Falcon9”.

Turns out both sock puppet screen names are almost surely none other than Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. In the Phoenix New Times, Stephen Lemons (aka the “Feathered Bastard”) relates many of Huppenthal’s erstwhile greatest sock puppet hits.

Here is a great video report by Brahm Resnik, and featuring excerpts from an interview he did with Bob Lord as well as comments by media expert Dan Gillmor of the ASU Cronkite School of Journalism. [I would embed it but for the fact there are no available reasonable embed controls and the thing auto plays, which just is not permissible on this site. Extremely poor form by Arizona Central and KPNX 12 News]

So, not only is Huppenthal a book banning right wing nut job, he is an anonymous political blog troll – with multiple identities – obsessively, albeit covertly, policing reporting on his own true life self. Not only does Huppenthal, through his sock puppets, aggressively defend himself at all cost, he also attacks other politicians he dislikes, like the outstanding current Democratic candidate for Arizona Attorney General, Felecia Rotellini.

Think Huppenthal is a disgrace to his public office, and position as the leader of Arizona public education? Sure. But, wait, there is more! Much more. Huppenthal has done this on, arguably, taxpayer time on the job, and unquestionably via the misuse of state equipment and resources.

Arizona Administrative Code Title Two, Chapter Five provides, inter alia:

R2-5A-501. Standards of Conduct
A. Required conduct. A state employee shall at all times:
1. Comply with federal and state laws and rules, and agency policies and directives;
2. Maintain high standards of honesty, integrity, and impartiality, free from personal considerations, or favoritism;
4. Conduct himself or herself in a manner that will not bring discredit or embarrassment to the state.
B. Prohibited conduct. A state employee shall not:
1. Use his or her official position for personal gain, or attempt to use, or use, confidential information for personal advantage;
5. Directly or indirectly use or allow the use of state equipment or property of any kind, including equipment and property leased to the state, for other than official activities unless authorized by written agency policy or as otherwise allowed by these rules;

The Arizona Republic and local Channel 12 NBC News, through the excellent Brahm Resnik, has reported Huppenthal used his office at the Department of Education in his anonymous sock puppet political blog trolling and commenting (see the video linked above). I have independently confirmed, via Bob Lord at Blog For Arizona – where many (but far from all) of the comments were made – that dedicated Arizona Department of Education IP addresses were used.

Pretty hard to look at Huppenthal’s putative conduct here and not see how, at a minimum, it is in direct violation of R2-5A-501(A)(2 and 4), maintaining honesty and integrity and conducting oneself so as to not discredit and/or embarrass the state, not to mention R2-5A-501(B)(5) misuse of state property and equipment for other than official activities. The putative technical violations are patently obvious.

Most damningly, there is precedent for investigation, sanction and termination of governmental officials in Arizona for violative conduct such as misuse of governmental computer networks and political hatcheting. In 2008, high ranking Maricopa County official Al Macias was terminated for conduct directly analogous to that which Huppenthal stands accused of, and under directly similar ethical guidelines.

While the firing of a county official is a far different thing than removal of a top elected state official, the previous standard should serve as a wake up call to both the press and state ethics officials in Arizona on the purported conduct of State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

Should the students, teachers and citizens of Arizona expect any substantive investigation into Huppenthal’s ethical lapses in conduct? Of course not, because that would almost certainly have to come from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office run by fellow embattled conservative Republican, and Huppenthal’s direct predecessor, Tom Horne. Hard to envision the scenario where Horne is not so busy fighting off his own charges of impropriety that he would be willing to take on a fellow kindred wing nut.

It is a story worth telling and investigating, and one the citizens of Arizona should hear; let’s hope more of the press, both state and national, follow up on where Brahm Resnik, Stephen Lemons and Bob Lord have had the courage to lead.

7 replies
  1. pipship says:

    I don’t understand jurisdictional issues. If equipment and resources is abused, and were in part funded by Federal grants, don’t the Feds have a policing interest here?

  2. pipship says:

    State education equipment and software is frequently co-funded by Federal Department of Education grants, isn’t it? I thought, perhaps erroneously, that it opened the door to a prosecutable offense for misuse of the federal funding.

    i’m not talking about the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse act, something more along the line of using government equipment for personal gain. (Which you provided on the State Level) but more Federal agency policy and rules of the DOE.

    It’s just a quick question, you mentioned state ip addresses, I thought interstate-transmiting government computers were a big deal even if at first glance it seems like minor misuse.

    • bmaz1 says:

      Federal funds and grants may go to actual schools, but this is the head of a state agency working in the state capitol, there is nothing there that could bring the feds in that I am aware of. I like the thought though!

      • pipship says:

        Thank you for your gracious response to this not-a-lawyer. Knowing you (nor Marcy) seem to suffer fools gladly, i think it a compliment.

        Someday I should tell you about my escaping a honeytrap near Fort Lewis, Washington. Good thing I brought an “Oh Boy” Oberto sausage!


  3. Bay State Librul says:

    Good muckraking. You need to move to a bluer state for peace of mind (smile).

    Make my summer – still hope that MacNamee will take down the Rocket, in his five year battle to right the defamation ship, pending forever in a New York court.

    As one writer says “Everyone needs a tree house where they can go and get a grip on the big picture.”

    • bmaz1 says:

      McNamee won a round on discovery, but it was nothing game changing; time will tell on the rest.

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