Republicans Victorious in 6 of 8 Races for State School Chief

By Adrienne D. Coles & Melanie A. Lasoff — November 16, 1994 4 min read

The Republican trend in this year’s elections extended to the eight races for chief state school officers that were decided last week. Democrats emerged victorious in only two states: California, where both candidates were Democrats, and Oklahoma, where the incumbent, Sandy Garrett, barely managed to hold on to her job.

Three other incumbents also sought re-election; the Republican won and the two Democrats lost.

In Georgia, Republican Linda Schrenko had been considered a long-shot candidate, but she defeated the incumbent, Werner Rogers, in what turned out to be a tight race. She not only is the first Republican to be elected schools superintendent in the state since the Reconstruction era, but also was the first g.o.p. candidate for that office in a generation.

Ms. Schrenko, a former teacher, counselor, and principal, stumped throughout the state, criticizing the performance of the state’s schools and warning parents to be suspicious of standards and mandates emanating from Atlanta or Washington. (See Education Week, 10/19/94.)

Florida also elected its first Republican education commissioner. While Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles bucked the national Republican trend, Frank Brogan narrowly beat out Doug Jamerson, whom Mr. Chiles had appointed in January. Mr. Jamerson had hoped to be the first black elected to the Florida post.

Mr. Brogan, a supporter of private school vouchers and deregulation, was the superintendent of the Martin County school district, where academic achievement improved and school crime was reduced during his tenure.

Eastin Takes Calif. Post

In California, State Rep. Delaine Eastin won the spot vacated by Bill Honig nearly two years ago with 55 percent of the vote. While Maureen DiMarco, her opponent in the officially nonpartisan election, was also a Democrat, Ms. DiMarco had served as the education adviser to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who was re-elected last week.

The two candidates clashed over the California Learning Assessment, the controversial testing system that was halted by Mr. Wilson’s veto earlier this year.

“I favor some type of performance testing; we must work together and create something we can be proud of and get California back on top,” Ms. Eastin said.

Ms. Eastin will also be faced with the fallout from passage of Proposition 187, the ballot initiative denying education and other services to illegal immigrants, which both she and Ms. DiMarco opposed. Ms. Eastin said teachers will be reluctant to take on the role of immigration agent. (See related story )

Republican Trend Continues

In Arizona, Republican Lisa Graham easily defeated Democrat Lela Alston, a fellow state legislator, with 62 percent of the vote. Ms. Graham said she will spend her first days in office talking to people in Arizona’s schools.

“The department has been out of touch with the people,” she said.

Ms. Graham’s top goals are to relieve the burden of state regulations on local schools and to offer different approaches to meeting the needs of districts. She also points out that she supported the reform bill that passed the legislature this year. She also supported Gov. Fife Symington’s unsuccessful effort to pass a private-school-choice program.

“I’m not a back-to-basics kind of gal,” Ms. Graham said last week.

In Idaho, Republican Anne Fox took 57 percent of the vote, despite endorsements for her opponent, Democrat Willie Sullivan, from the state’s largest teachers’ union and the outgoing Republican superintendent.

Ms. Fox, a former teacher, principal, and superintendent, has said she wants to shift school funding from property taxes to sales taxes. She also backs private school vouchers.

“The people of Idaho have really issued a mandate, that they want a positive change in the direction(See ducation seems to be going,” said Terry Haws, Ms. Fox’s campaign manager.

Barbara Nielsen, a Republican, was re-elected as South Carolina’s school superintendent.

“We’re just really going to be building on the infrastructure we’ve laid,” she said last week. “I’m thankful to the people of the state that they’re giving time for reform efforts to take hold.”

Ms. Nielsen said she will continue work on a school-to-work initiative and curriculum frameworks, as well as trying to comply with a court order to restructure the state’s finance system.

In Oklahoma, Democrat Sandy Garrett retained the state chief’s job by a slim margin despite criticism from her Republican opponent, Linda Murphy, for supporting outcomes-based education. Ms. Garrett has said she plans to continue working to implement a 1990 education-reform law.

In Wyoming, Republican Judy Catchpole defeated Democrat Judy Minier for an open seat. Ms. Catchpole, a former teacher and school board member who has also served as the executive director of the Wyoming Republican Party, had said she would seek to build partnerships to raise additional education funds.

A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 1994 edition of Education Week as Republicans Victorious in 6 of 8 Races for State School Chief