School Superintendent Candidate Befriended, Defended Multiple Alleged Child Sex Criminals

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

By Dillon Rosenblatt

October 5, 2022

Republican candidate for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne’s connection to David Stringer brings to light a troubling voting record.

Tom Horne, whose entire campaign for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction has been marred by his repeated defense of a child molester apparently associated with his campaign, voted against harsher penalties for statutory rape while serving as a state lawmaker and voted twice to reinstate a teacher who resigned in disgrace after students reported him for looking at pornography in the classroom—including of minors—while superintendent.

Horne has been around in state politics for a while. He served in the Arizona Legislature for four years before losing his primary race in 2000 to Dean Martin; served two full terms as state superintendent from 2003-2011; and served one term as state attorney general before losing his primary to Mark Brnovich in 2014.

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2022 is his first campaign back, and he’s hoping to unseat incumbent Kathy Hoffman, the Democrat in the race, to become the state schools chief once again.

A Slow Reversal

The controversy surrounding who Horne keeps company with began when he shared an image of disgraced former state lawmaker David Stringer on Twitter—and then went as far as to pin it onto his page—thanking him and others for his primary win on Aug. 2. I (and others) called him out, and he subsequently unpinned and deleted the tweet.

Tom Horne’s now-deleted post thanking his supporters—including disgraced lawmaker David Stringer (left).

I’m not going to repurpose all the reporting out there on Horne and his connection to Stringer, so if you’re behind, check out his interview with AZFamily’s Morgan Loew, his interview on KTAR News’s Gaydos and Chad Show, and this recent write-up detailing Horne’s attempt to distance himself from Stringer by Arizona Republic’s Yana Kunichoff.

The problems are (just for starters):

  1. Horne is asking voters to take him at his word that he did, in fact, refund Stringer’s in-kind contribution, since the next campaign finance filing deadline isn’t until Oct. 15. Ballots are mailed on Oct. 12, so many Arizonans may have already voted before this information becomes public.
  2. Stringer ran for Yavapai County Attorney in 2020 — he lost by a lot to Sheila Polk, a Horne adversary — and in that campaign, Stringer used video interviews Horne did on Prescott E-News, where Stringer is the publisher, to aid his campaign against Polk. At the time, I asked Horne if he was endorsing Stringer in that race, and he said no but that he was fine with Stringer using him in his ads.

So this isn’t a one-off connection between the two men.

A Track Record of Protection

But all that aside, Horne has a less-than-ideal voting history when it comes to inappropriate situations involving minors predating his public history with Stringer.

In 2000l, the Arizona House of Representatives voted on a bill—HB2587—that aimed to strengthen the penalty for statutory rape of minors over the age of 15, moving it from a class 6 felony to a class 4 felony. It also would have increased the penalty to a class 2 felony if the person committing the act was five years older than the minor.

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Horne voted no on the bill, as did 40 others. The law remains the same as it did back then. I reached out to Horne three times prior to publication via email, phone, and his campaign website, but did not hear back.

I sent him a couple of questions in writing asking him to explain his no vote and if he believes the penalty for statutory rape should be more severe.

Horne Defended Educator Fired for Watching Child Pornography

Perhaps more egregious for a candidate hoping to oversee K-12 schools in the state is a vote Horne made while in that position in 2006.

Horne, while state superintendent and a member of the State Board of Education, voted twice to reinstate the teaching certificate of a high school teacher who resigned in disgrace in 2002 after students reported him for looking at pornography on his classroom computer. But it gets worse.

The teacher, Joseph Richardson, then of Queen Creek High School, admitted in 2006 that part of the pornography he viewed involved minors. He said it was out of “curiosity” not “interest,” according to the minutes entry I requested from the Board of Education.

The Board met at first to discuss the issue on April 24, 2006 where Horne voted “yes” to reinstate Richardson, along with four other board members. Since six votes in favor of reinstatement are required, the measure failed.

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The conversation was tabled until May, when all 11 board members could be present. On the second attempt, Horne again voted to reinstate—and this time, they had the six votes necessary to proceed with reinstatement. Richardson still has a valid teaching certificate in Arizona, according to the state database.

The final vote was 6-5, meaning if Superintendent Horne had voted no, Richardson would not be allowed to teach.

Here’s an excerpt from the May 22, 2006 meeting:

Mr. Richardson added regarding the more severe finding was the fact that he looked at pictures of minors, various things that were sexually oriented with minors but that this was because of curiosity and not because he had a special interest in those areas, but that his curiosity was strong at that point. He added that he is disgusted with his actions and thoughts that he had at that time.

Mr. Richardson stated that he understood that this is a severe case and the responsibility that the Board has to make sure we have good, qualified teachers and asked for a second chance. He added that if the members felt he really should not teach, he would understand that, as well.

Mr. Richardson stated that he did know it was unprofessional and that he did recognize at the time that it was wrong so he was very careful not to allow anyone else to see what he was doing.

Despite Richardson’s own testimony, Horne argued that there weren’t any minors involved in the pornography citing a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office report that said the same thing. He also claimed that anything Richardson did was “inadvertent.”

Mr. Horne added that he thought that if there were inappropriate materials viewed on the computer partly it was inadvertent as Mr. Richardson was seeking something else and other things came as a result. Mr. Horne added that Mr. Richardson wasn’t seeking inappropriate materials.

Again, Richardson admitted to looking at inappropriate pictures of minors “only on 4 or 5 or 6 occasions in the classroom,” but Horne still argued otherwise. It’s similar to Stringer pleading guilty in 1983, but Horne continues to argue Stringer is innocent, except this time he’s willing to believe the police report.

Kathy Hoffman, the current superintendent and Democratic nominee, told Fourth Estate 48, “Tom Horne has a pattern of not just excusing the inexcusable, but rewarding it. He should be nowhere near schools or children.”

This article was originally published in Fourth Estate 48, a newsletter dedicated to government accountability in Arizona through public records.

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