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Arizona's public schools chief John Huppenthal breaks down in tears June 25, 2014, during a news conference at the Department of Education in Phoenix. / Mark Henle, The Arizona Republic

PHOENIX - Arizona public-schools chief John Huppenthal invoked the word "honor" repeatedly Wednesday before leaving his news conference in tears after apologizing for controversial Internet comments.

A short time later, a group of community leaders said the honorable thing for him to do would be to resign as superintendent of public instruction over his anonymous online blog responses that have drawn fierce criticism.

Huppenthal apologized several times during his hastily called news conference at the Arizona Department of Education headquarters in Phoenix, saying he "renounced and repudiated" the comments he had posted on blogs.

But he was adamant that he would not resign or quit his race for re-election, in which he faces a Republican primary challenge.

"I plan to go forward in service, both in the service I'm in and on the election front," he said.

Huppenthal's posts, made under the pseudonyms Falcon9 and Thucydides, generated controversy last week after he acknowledged he had written them. In his harshest remarks, made in 2011, he called people who receive public assistance "lazy pigs" and compared the work of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger to the actions of the Nazis. Another anonymous post from 2010 surfaced this week in which Falcon9 said Spanish-language media should be shut down.

He began his news conference by saying,"I realize fervently and more powerfully than ever that all of my actions both in my official role and privately need to bring honor to the great work being done by teachers on behalf of students. They need to bring honor to principals leading schools and especially they need to bring honor to all the great work being done in this agency."

He said he was especially upset that his comments hurt the Department of Education staff.

"That hurtfulness is in a number of ways," he said. "I've thought about it deeply, especially given my comments about bringing honor to the system. Obviously, my hurtful blog comments didn't do that. ... The person I feel most for, to the point of my own tears, is my assistant."

Huppenthal then began crying. A moment later, he was whisked away, and the news conference ended.

He was referring to his chief of staff, Merle Bianchi, who has answered reporters' questions about his blog posts.

An hour after Huppenthal's appearance, business and education leaders held a news conference and called on Huppenthal to resign.

Phoenix lawyer Daniel Ortega called Huppenthal's online comments "antiquated" and "ignorant."

"Huppenthal does not practice the basic ideals we expect to instill in our children," he said.

Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, a Republican, said she thinks many Huppenthal supporters are "reeling" with emotion as they try to reconcile the schools chief they thought they knew well. She believes more will speak out against the blog posts in the future.

"He is a smart man who does good work," she said. "I was sick when I saw the posts."

In his news conference, Huppenthal addressed the 2010 blog post on Spanish media, saying that he fervently believes that speaking, reading and writing English is the best way to advance in the United States, and that he feels "less tension" about Arizona's success in teaching English now than he did four years ago.

When asked about his "lazy pigs" comment, he said: "I think a lot about economics and how do we create opportunity. ... That in no way shape or form excuses the way I expressed those sentiments. That's why I repudiate those blog comments. It's OK to talk about policy. It's not OK to talk about people."

Others involved in politics said that Huppenthal should not resign.

Huppenthal did the right thing by facing the public in a news conference and taking questions about his blogging behavior, said Stan Barnes, a consultant and former GOP lawmaker who served with Huppenthal in the Arizona Senate in the 1990s.

But his anonymous comments, although an "awful misjudgment," are not cause for resignation, Barnes said.

"Absolutely, he should hang in there," Barnes said. "It's not something to resign over, especially on the doorstep of the primary election."

It's better to let voters decide, Barnes said, adding that he chalks up some of the calls for resignation to opponents who are trying to score political points.

Huppenthal told The Arizona Republic several hours before the news conference that he is dismayed the anonymous comments came to light because one of his top motivations in the school superintendent's job is helping disadvantaged students. He is known for strong stands in favor of the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, formerly known as the Common Core Standards - which aim to prepare all students for college, technical school or jobs after graduation - technical education and charter schools that help students who might have dropped out get diplomas.

Huppenthal's work on behalf of the new standards drew praise from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was to have given him an award last week. Chamber officials canceled that plan after news stories about the blog posts appeared.

Huppenthal said he didn't mind criticism directed at him personally.

"I don't mind getting beat up; I've been in office a long time," he said. "That comes with the territory."

Huppenthal has been in political office since 1984, when he was elected to the Chandler City Council. He served in the state House and Senate before being elected to his current post.

Contributing: Arizona Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Ariz. schools chief cries, won't resign over blog posts

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