6:30 p.m.: An hour before the debate, I notice a Giffords side by the side of Prince Road. And then another. And another. The Giffords camp has sunk signs everywhere they could along a three-mile stretch of Prince Road leading to the debate at Flowing Wells High School.
As I arrive at Flowing Wells, I notice that the homes across the street have Giffords plastered all over their fences.
This is a repeat of the first debate, when Giffords’ volunteers plastered campaign signs all over the UA and the nearby area with signs. I’m struck by the fact that the Bee campaign hasn’t tried to counter this “shock and awe” strategy.
7 p.m.: Sen. Tim Bee arrives, getting a crowd of about 20 GOP kids excited. “Tim Bee!” the youth brigade chants. Bee starts to approach his fans, but gets pulled away by his handlers.
7:05 p.m.: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords arrives. The Bee Youth Brigade boo loudly, then begin chanting Bee’s name again.
7:25 p.m.: The crowd—such as it is—continues to trickle in. Turnout is about equal to the number of folks who turned out to see state Senate candidates Al Melvin and Cheryl Cage debate. Several people blame the low turnout on the fact that tonight is also the final McCain-Obama debate. That’s an apt metaphor for this entire race, which has been almost completely overshadowed by national events.
7:30 p.m.: Mike Love, chair of the Flowing Wells School Board, takes the stage. In Michael Scott fashion, he launches into a long-winded introduction of the people who will be questioning the candidates, who include Mark Kimble of the Tucson Citizen, Bud Foster of KOLD-TV, and a teacher.
7:42 p.m.: Love is finally done introducing the moderators and running through their career highlights. Members of the audience are grateful the debate is about to begin—but no! Love then introduces representatives from the Arizona Education Association and the Arizona School Board Association, who will be also be helping with the debate. After hearing about her many academic accomplishments, I conclude that Janice Palmer is the most qualified time-keeper I’ve ever seen at a political debate.
7:45 p.m.: Bee and Giffords come onstage. Strangely, after he’s spent 15 minutes introducing everyone else, Love’s introduction of the candidates is limited to their names.
7:46 p.m.: The representatives from the Arizona Education Association and the Arizona School Board Association do some more pimping for the organization. Palmer concludes with: “We can’t wait to get started.” That succinctly sums up the feeling in the crowd.
7:48 p.m.: Bee gives us a two-minute intro. He talks about his family’s background in administration and teaching in TUSD. He says he understands the importance of education. “There’s no greater challenge facing our nation right now that will determine our future,” he says. Then he says he fought a lot of battles behind the scenes to support education.
7:50 p.m.: Giffords says he she believes education is also key to the future and all children need an equal shot. “We are now experiencing a knowledge and technology-based revolution that’s going to last 30 years,” she says. “America is truly lagging behind.” Giffords says we need to reduce class styles, provide teachers with better pay and more training.
7:53 p.m.: First question is about No Child Left Behind Act. Bee thinks we need to reform it and fund it. Congress has failed to provide the necessary leadership to fix it. He says there’s too much testing and the legislation is designed to undercut schools.
Giffords says No Child Left Behind is like a great-looking house that, after more inspection, turns out to a “disaster” where nobody could live. Giffords says she’s listened to complaints from education professionals and has testified before the House Education Committee and has said she won’t support it without funding and “fundamental change.”
Bee says Congress hasn’t reformed it. “We need real leadership in Washington.” He offers to sponsor legislation to reform the law.
Giffords says Democrats held off on pushing for reform until a new administration has been sworn in because the Bush administration would have blocked changes.
8:05 p.m.: A creationism question! Bud Foster wants to know if creationism or evolution should be taught in science classes.
Giffords says creationism doesn’t belong in science classrooms, although it would be fine to teach it in religion classes, Sunday school, churches and at home. “Science needs to be taught in science classrooms.”
Bee says the federal government shouldn’t decide what should be taught in local classrooms, but adds that “there are competing opinions out there and children can make their own decision about where they believe about the world and how it came to be and that information is good to provide and let people think.” He says it’s important to teach critical thinking skills. My critical thinking skills tell me that teaching religion in science classes is a dumb idea.
8:14 p.m.: Bee tells the crowd he has opposed vouchers his entire career. He says that public money comes with strings that private schools won’t like and voucher programs drain money from the public schools.
Giffords says she opposes vouchers and brings some smack, pointing out that Bee supported a voucher pilot program as part of a budget deal in 2006 for foster and special-needs children.
Bee says he only supported the vouchers as part of a deal to expand all-day kindergarten.
8:17 p.m.: The candidates are asked whether they supported high-stakes standardized testing. Bee says the standardized testing has caused schools to abandon arts programs and other electives.
Giffords says half of all teachers drop out of the profession after five years. She says one reason is because there are so many standardized tests.
8:21 p.m.: The candidates are asked about the schools that their children attend. Giffords talks about her step-children who attend schools in Houston, Texas.
Bee explains that his kids go to school at home with the Arizona Virtual Academy, an online distance-learning program. “We’ve done a little bit of non-traditional education,” he says. He adds that “our kids are just fabulous ballerinas.”
Giffords uses her rebuttal time to mention that her kids “are fabulous, too!”
8:27 p.m.: During a question on whether private contractors should be used by school districts for food or janitorial service, Bee lays into Giffords for voting against a proposal that would have required background check on school employees.
Giffords says that vote was the result of a Republican Party strategy to put forward procedural motions “that are these kinds of gimmicky attempts to try to kill the bill, but in the meantime they’ll put something in there like ‘terrorism’ or ‘illegal immigration’ or trying to help sex offenders—they take the most egregious issue out there, they bundle it in a … procedural motion and of course you don’t vote for it because you don’t want to kill the bill and then—surprise, surprise—election year comes up and every single vulnerable Democrat is attacked with same attack across the country.”
Bee replies: “Voting is important. Sometimes they are difficult votes. But you have to stand up for what you believe.” Unless you are voting for a voucher program that you oppose, evidently.
8:32 p.m.: The candidates are asked where they will find the money to increase education funding. Bee cites the importance of having a strong economy in Arizona, while Giffords uses the opportunity to talk about why she ended up supporting the financial-sector bailout bill.
Bee complains that Giffords want to raise taxes on people earning more than $250,000, which will hurt many struggling people.
8:40 p.m.: The candidates talk about whether there should be national nutritional standards. Really. Giffords turns it into a soapbox to complain that Bee didn’t support expanding healthcare coverage for kids. Bee says he opposes the legislation because it took prescription-drug coverage from seniors. He says he would have negotiated a better deal.
8:55 p.m.: Bee promises to continue to fight for education programs if he’s elected to Congress. Giffords promises to continue to fight for education programs if she’s re-elected to Congress.