PHOENIX - Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal broke down in tears Wednesday at the end of a news conference where he apologized for posting an anonymous blog comment that denigrated welfare recipients and other postings that were seen by some as racist.
Huppenthal was barely composed from the beginning of the packed news conference at the state Board of Education's meeting room near the Capitol, but he finally lost his composure after about a half hour when he tried to explain how those comments had most affected his longtime assistant.
"We can imagine the emotional impact. I have talked to people who have been hurt by the hour," Huppenthal said. The person I feel most - to the point of my own tears - is my assistant Merle. She has been with me for .... "
Huppenthal then broke down completely and left the room.
The state's top education officials, however, said he would neither resign his position nor drop out of the Republican primary, where he faces a challenge from a conservative who is campaigning to get the state to drop new Common Core standards.
He also said he would not back away from his support for the standards "that are hugely controversial among the conservative elements of Arizona."
Huppenthal has been peppered with criticism for a week, ever since it became public that he had posted on both conservative and liberal blogs under pseudonyms for several years. Among the posts dating to 2011, when he took his current office, was one that denigrated both President Barack Obama and welfare recipients.
"Obama is rewarding the lazy pigs with food stamps (44 million people), air-conditioning, free health care, flat-screen TV's (typical of "poor" families)."
Another earlier set of comments that came to light this week credited former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of the state's tough anti-illegal immigration law, with bringing down crime rates. But he went on to call on immigrant to assimilate, and quickly.
"No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv, no spanish newspapers," he wrote. "This is America, speak English."
A former superintendent of public instruction, Lisa Graham Keegan, was among several community members who called Wednesday for Huppenthal to resign. She said his comments were so damaging that he can't effectively lead the state's school agency.
"The No. 1 issue for the person who holds the job of superintendent of public instruction is deep respect and community with the people that we serve and those that we work with," said Keegan, who served from 1995-2001 as a Republican but now is an independent. "John Huppenthal's comments have violated that sacred bond."
Others at the news conference where Keegan spoke echoed her comments.
"We wouldn't take the comments that John Huppenthal has said from a student body president. We wouldn't take it from a principal at a school," said Lawrence Robinson, a Roosevelt School District board member. "We certainly will not take it from the person responsible for representing all of our public schools and our education."
Huppenthal faces a primary challenge from Diane Douglas, a conservative Republican who has attacked the incumbent for his support of the Common Core standards. Two Democrats, David Garcia and Sharon Thomas, are also in the race.