Incumbents Fare Well in State Chiefs’ Races

By Mary Ann Zehr & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 03, 2004 4 min read

Incumbents swept races for state schools chief in four states—Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington state—while an open seat in North Carolina remained too close to call the morning after the Nov. 2 elections. In state school board elections, incumbents also fared well in most of the 12 states where they were held.

Terry Bergeson won re-election to a third term as Washington state’s schools chief by a substantial margin in what had been expected to be a close race with Judith Billings, a former state superintendent. It was the second time the two had faced each other for the nonpartisan post.

Ms. Bergeson, a former president of the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, won the election despite failing to win the endorsement of the union, which criticized her for supporting charter schools. Ms. Billings is against charter schools.

State Education Chiefs’ Race Results

The table below shows preliminary results in the state races for top education official. Winners are in bold.

* Incumbent
**Nonpartisan election

State Candidates Results
Indiana Suellen Reed (R)* 56.23%
Susan Williams (D) 40.87%

Source: The Indianapolis Star/AP
(5414 of 5424 precincts reporting)

Montana Linda McCulloch (D)* 57%
Bob Anderson (R) 43%

Source: Billings Gazette
(877 of 881 of precincts reporting)

North Carolina June Atkinson (D) 50%
Bill Fletcher (R) 50%

Source: The (Raleigh) News & Observer
(Too close to call - 89% of precincts reporting)

North Dakota** Wayne G. Sanstead* 61.61%
Keith Jacobson 38.39%

Source: North Dakota Secretary of State
(607 of 607 precincts reporting)

Washington** Terry Bergeson* 56.20 %
Judith Billings 43.79 %

Source: Washington Secretary of State
(100% of precincts reporting)

The candidates also disagreed on plans to use the 10th grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL, as a graduation requirement, beginning in 2008. Ms. Bergeson helped establish the requirement, while Ms. Billings wanted to remove the test as a graduation requirement and use broader measures of student progress.

Meanwhile, North Dakota’s Wayne G. Sanstead won a sixth term as state schools chief, receiving about 62 percent of the vote with most precincts reporting, to defeat high school principal Keith Jacobson in the nonpartisan contest.

Indiana’s Republican incumbent, Suellen Reed, succeeded in gaining a fourth term as state superintendent. Ms. Reed’s Democratic challenger, Susan Williams, had vowed that if elected, she would immediately resign to allow the governor to make an appointment to the post. Ms. Reed also supports making the schools chief’s post an appointed position, but only after the Indiana legislature decides to change the law.

“The main thing [these results] tell us is that we’re heading in the right direction, and that continuity is important to getting Indiana [public schools] where they need to be,” Ms. Reed said in an interview.

In Montana, Democrat Linda McCulloch was re-elected to a second term as schools chief over Republican Bob Anderson, the superintendent of the 340-student Fort Benton public schools.

Democrat Linda McCulloch, center, applauds during a Democratic party Tuesday night, Nov. 2, 2004, in Helena, Mont., after she won re-election to state superintendent of public instruction.

Meanwhile, the superintendent’s race in North Carolina was in a dead heat, with the candidates coming within 50 votes of each other with 89 percent of the precincts reporting. Democrat June Atkinson, a former state education official, and Republican Bill Fletcher, a businessman and longtime school board member in Wake County, each had 50 percent of the vote for the seat vacated by Mike Ward, who resigned in August. North Carolina’s state chief has had reduced statutory authority since the early 1990s, when the state board handed most of the oversight of the department of public instruction to the deputy superintendent, who is hired by the state board.

In state board races, a Democrat who favors the inclusion of the theory of evolution in Kansas’ science standards and textbooks won re-election to the only contested position on the 10-member Kansas board of education. Bill Wagnon, a history professor at Washburn University in Topeka, received 51 percent of the vote for a third four-year term.

The candidates’ views on science were an issue in the Kansas race. The topic has caused considerable state and national debate since the state board’s vote in 1999 to remove references to the theory of evolution from the state-approved science curriculum. In 2001, the board reversed that decision. But Mr. Wagnon’s challenger, Robert L. Meissner, a Republican, has said he would consider adding requirements for students to learn alternative science theories such as “intelligent design,” according to news reports.

In Utah, three of the four incumbents—Teresa L. Theurer, John C. Pingree, and Janet A. Cannon—on the 15-member state board who were up for re-election kept their seats. Mike Anderson, the fourth incumbent running, lost his seat. Mr. Anderson was forced to run as a write-in candidate after the state’s selection committee had not recommended him for the ballot for the nonpartisan board.

State board elections were also held in Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. Preliminary election results showed that incumbents hung on to their seats in some of those states.

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