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Wash. Voters Narrow 11-Candidate Field in Chief's Race to Two

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Longtime educator and former teachers union president Terry Bergeson will face millionaire real-estate developer and former college professor Ron Taber in the race for Washington state schools chief.

Voters last week narrowed a crowded, nonpartisan field of 11 candidates to two. Ms. Bergeson collected about 38 percent of the vote, and Mr. Taber roughly 17 percent, although absentee ballots were still uncounted last week.

The current superintendent of public instruction, Judith A. Billings, is not seeking re-election. The campaign to choose her successor is seen as the highest-profile state chief's race in Washington history. ("11 Duke It Out in High-Profile Race for Schools Chief in Wash.," Sept. 11, 1996.)

Ms. Bergeson and Mr. Taber will square off in the general election Nov. 5, and the winner of that race will lead the state's 900,000-student public school system.

Ms. Bergeson, 53, of Olympia, is a former teacher, principal, and school administrator. She is a past president of the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union.

Her most recent post was as the head of the governor's Commission on Student Learning, which implemented the state's 1993 outcomes- and standards-oriented reform law. Ms. Bergeson promises to be an even more prominent backer of the plan if elected.

Although she said she's been "full of adrenaline" since hearing the primary results, Ms. Bergeson said last week that she's "not running just to win an election."

"I'm running in this race to make schools work," she said. "Ron Taber has a market niche of people who are opposed to public education and want to dismantle the system. I want to build schools up."

Mr. Taber, 54, also of Olympia, is a former professor of American studies and real estate developer who now raises cattle and manages a fortune he amassed building low-income housing. He has made a school-voucher question on the November ballot--Initiative 173--the centerpiece of his campaign.

Mr. Taber, who has spent nearly $1 million of his own money on his campaign, is running on a "back to basics" and school-choice platform. He opposes both the state's education-reform law and the federal Goals 2000 Act.

He portrayed the November showdown as a "clear choice between a conservative outsider and a liberal insider."

Four Races Elsewhere

Four other state chiefs' races are also on the November ballot:

  • In Indiana, elementary school principal Ann England is running for superintendent of public instruction against Republican incumbent Suellen Reed.
  • Montana voters will choose between Republican Wayne Buchanan, the executive secretary of the state board of public education, and the incumbent, Superintendent of Public Instruction Nancy Keenan, a Democrat.
  • North Carolina voters are hearing from two finalists for the largely gutted position of state superintendent. Bob Etheridge, whose term in the office saw it dismantled by lawmakers, is running for Congress. Democrat Mike Ward, a former teacher and school administrator who is now the director of the North Carolina Standards Board for Public School Administration, will face Republican Vernon Robinson, a former college professor and current president of the North Carolina Education Reform Foundation.
  • Finally, in North Dakota, veteran state Superintendent Wayne Sanstead will face Republican state senator and high school guidance counselor Ray Holmberg in the state's nonpartisan election.

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