Idaho Republican Tom Luna emerged today as the winner of one of the nation’s two races for open state education superintendencies, while the outcome of the other such contest—in South Carolina—appeared headed for a recount.
Meanwhile, incumbents in four states—three Republicans and one Democrat—retained their posts with wider margins.
Although Democrat Jim Rex was ahead of Republican Karen Floyd and had declared victory in the South Carolina race, the margin was less than 500 of more than 1 million votes cast as of midafternoon. If the margin of victory is within 1 percent, state law requires a recount.
A key issue in the South Carolina chief’s race was Republican Gov. Mark Sanford’s “Put Parents in Charge” plan to provide tax credits for private school tuition.
Ms. Floyd raised far more campaign funds than her opponent, 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 was outspoken in his opposition to the idea.
Mr. Rex declared victory this morning, calling the election a “referendum in support of public education,” according to a press release put out by the campaign.
“Now is not the time to turn our backs on public education by draining necessary resources from them and implementing a voucher scheme that is unproven, unaccountable, and would ultimately result in increased taxes for South Carolina’s citizens,” he said in the release.
But Ms. Floyd believes that the race is still too close to call.
“As the vote count now stands, I believe Jim Rex and I are separated by 0.02% of the vote. I’ve been told that there are also many absentee votes that remain to be counted,” she said at a press conference this afternoon. “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.”
In the other state with no incumbent seeking re-election, Democrat Jana Jones conceded defeat to Mr. Luna at about 2 p.m. Eastern time. With all precincts reporting, Mr. Luna was ahead by 51 percent to 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 beat 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.
The largest margin of victory was garnered by Democratic incumbent Sandy Garrett in Oklahoma, who 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 certain 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 position on the security idea, including footage that showed him shooting textbooks in a field.
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 the number of members is reduced 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.