California’s Wilson C. Riles, superintendent of the nation’s largest state system of public schools, was defeated last week in his bid for a fourth term by William Honig, a lawyer who has spent much of his career in education.
Mr. Riles, the immediate past president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, was the only incumbent state superintendent who failed in a re-election bid.
California’s superintendent-elect, who called throughout the campaign for tougher academic standards and discipline, said he would promote citizen participation in public education, legislation to establish statewide graduation standards, and changes in the way the state department of education operates.
Mr. Honig captured 56 percent of the vote to Mr. Riles’s 44 percent, out of more than six million votes cast. Last week’s runoff was forced when Mr. Riles did not capture 50 percent of the vote in last June’s nine-candidate primary.
Starting his campaign as a virtual unknown in most sections of the state, Mr. Honig spent close to $2 million on the campaign; Mr. Riles spent a little more than $600,000. The state’s major teachers’ organizations backed Mr. Riles, while Mr. Honig’s support came primarily from business and minority groups.
After the election, Mr. Honig brushed aside suggestions that he would not be able to get along with the state legislature, which is dominated by many supporters of Mr. Riles. “I’ll be willing to work with anybody,” he said. “I think they [the legislators] can read the election results as well as I can.”
“This is the largest referendum on education in our country,” Mr. Honig said. “The voters have clearly signaled that they want a rigorous and demanding education for their children. The people want homework, discipline, required courses, and high standards.”
Mr. Honig said he supports increased financial support for public schools, but he said it must be accompanied by changes in the operation of the state’s system. He said, for example, that rules for firing incompetent teachers should be more flexible.
Mr. Honig, 45 years old, gave up his private law practice in 1970 to become an intern in the federal Teacher Corps program, where he worked in a low-income section of San Francisco.
Two years later, he became a teacher at another San Francisco school. He was an education consultant from 1977 to 1979, and from 1979 until last year was superintendent of the Reed Union Elementary School District in Marin County.
Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1975 appointed Mr. Honig to the state board of education; Mr. Honig left that post last July to campaign full time.
Eight Incumbents Re-Elected
In Oregon, Verne A. Duncan won a third four-year term, defeating William Kendrick, superintendent of schools in Salem.
Wyoming’s Democratic superintendent of public instruction, Lynn Simons, also won re-election handily, defeating Gary Elliott, a former principal from Jackson.
Arizona’s superintendent, Carolyn Warner, a Democrat, won a third four-year term, defeating Ann Herzer.
Oklahoma’s Leslie Fisher and South Carolina’s Charlie G. Williams easily won re-election over opponents who did not mount active campaigns.
Three chief state school officers were re-elected without opposition: Jerry Evans of Idaho, Ralph D. Turlington of Florida, and Charles McDaniel of Georgia.
A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 1982 edition of Education Week as Honig Beats Supt. Riles in California; 8 Other Incumbent Chiefs Re-Elected