School & District Management

GOP Chiefs Fare Well in Elections

By Jessica L. Tonn — November 10, 2006 4 min read
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While Democrats scored big in last week’s congressional and gubernatorial elections, the GOP fared better in state education races.

Idaho Republican Tom Luna won one of the nation’s two open seats for state superintendent, while the other contest—in South Carolina—appeared late last week to be headed for a recount. Meanwhile, incumbent schools chiefs in four states—three Republicans and one Democrat—retained their posts with wider margins in the Nov. 7 elections.

Although Democrat Jim Rex was ahead of Republican Karen Floyd and had declared victory in the South Carolina race, the margin was only 274 votes of more than 1 million cast. State law gives candidates the right to a recount if the margin of victory is within 1 percent. Election officials said a recount could not be ordered until the count was considered official, a process due to be completed by Nov. 15.

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The two candidates are vying for the position being vacated by Democrat Inez M. Tenenbaum, who has been the state superintendent since 1999.

A central issue in the South Carolina race was Republican Gov. Mark Sanford’s “Put Parents in Charge” plan to provide tax credits for private school tuition.

Ms. Floyd, a businesswoman, raised far more campaign funds, in part, observers say, because of contributions from out-of-state voucher supporters, who would like to see the tax-credit plan become a reality. Mr. Rex, a retired college president, was outspoken in his opposition to the idea.

Mr. Rex declared victory early on Nov. 8, calling the election a “referendum in support of public education,” according to a press release put out by his campaign.

“Now is not the time to turn our backs on public education by draining necessary resources from [public schools] and implementing a voucher scheme that is unproven, unaccountable, and would ultimately result in increased taxes for South Carolina’s citizens,” he said.

But Ms. Floyd said last week that the race was too close to call. “Every South Carolinian who cast a vote deserves to have their vote counted, and we will continue to respect the integrity of the election process until every vote is counted,” she said.

Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that backs school choice, sees Ms. Floyd’s performance as a victory for advocates of change. “It’s pretty amazing that she got as many votes as she did,” she said.

The conventional wisdom has been that South Carolinians don’t favor the tax credits, Ms. Allen said, “but [Ms. Floyd] wouldn’t have gotten 50 percent of the vote if that’s the case.”

Incumbents Returned

In Idaho, the other state with no incumbent seeking re-election, the superintendent’s race also remained too close to call long after the polls closed.

The Democratic candidate, Jana Jones, conceded defeat to Mr. Luna at about 11 a.m. local time the morning after Election Day. Mr. Luna garnered 51 percent of the vote to her 49 percent.

Ms. Jones, a deputy superintendent in the state education department and a former teacher, had been endorsed by the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. Mr. Luna, a former local school board member, chairman of statewide education commissions, and adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, was endorsed by The Idaho Statesman, the state’s largest newspaper.

Elsewhere, Republican incumbent Tom Horne of Arizona bested his 30-year-old Democratic challenger, Jason Williams, by 6 percentage points. Republican incumbents Kathy Cox in Georgia and James McBride in Wyoming easily won their respective races.

In Oklahoma, Democratic incumbent Sandy Garrett finished 26 percentage points ahead of her Republican opponent, Bill Crozier. Mr. Crozier made headlines during the campaign for advocating that “intelligent design”—the belief that aspects of human development show signs of having been designed by an unnamed creator—be included in science classes, as well as his suggestion that students use textbooks as shields against armed intruders. He produced a 10-minute video to support his security suggestion, including footage that showed him shooting textbooks in a field.

Click to view interactive feature: State Chiefs and Boards
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In races for state boards of education, three Colorado incumbents retained their seats, giving Republicans a 4-3 majority on the panel. The board has been evenly split between the parties, but that will change when its membership falls from eight to seven in January.

Kansas voters favored Republicans in races for all four of the contested state board seats. Moderate Republicans and Democrats will hold six of the board’s 10 seats. The six favor the removal of Commissioner of Education Bob Corkins and revision of the state’s controversial science standards, which contain language critical of the theory of evolution. (“Kan. State Board Primaries Find Republicans Divided,” July 26, 2006.)

Supporters of instruction on evolution also picked up seats in Ohio, where four nonpartisan candidates who pledged to defend the teaching of the theory in science classes won election. They had been backed by a group of scientists called Help Ohio Public Education, or HOPE. In the fifth race, neither of the two candidates endorsed by the group won.

In February, a majority of the 15-member Ohio board voted to strip language from the state science standards that encouraged students to “critically analyze” the theory of evolution.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as GOP Chiefs Fare Well in Elections

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