States

State Schools Chief Primaries Prompt Runoffs in Calif., S.C.

June 09, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The race for state schools chief in California will extend to the state’s general election in November, after none of the three leading candidates captured a simple majority to claim the nonpartisan office in Tuesday’s primary.

As of early this morning, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, retired superintendent Larry Aceves led the pack of three with 18.8 percent of the votes, followed by state assemblyman Tom Torlakson with 18.1 percent, and state Sen. Gloria Romero with 17.2 percent. Those are some very tight results.

If those numbers hold, then Mr. Aceves and Mr. Torlakson will face off on the November ballot—not the result that most close watchers of this race were expecting.

That Mr. Aceves, who has never before run for public office, emerged as the leading vote-getter was somewhat of a surprise, though he had substantial financial backing through an independent expenditure committee set up by the the Association of California School Administrators. For months, the campaign to replace outgoing state chief Jack O’Connell had been widely cast (including by this blogger) as a fight between the California Teachers Association, which backed Mr. Torlakson, and EdVoice, a non-profit education reform group which supported Ms. Romero. All along, Mr. Aceves pitched himself as outside the union-vs.-reformer battle and touted his decades-long experience as a district superintendent.

The CTA, along with the California Federation of Teachers, sank money into radio spots for Mr. Torlakson, while EdVoice, with money from wealthy supporters, bought television ads for Ms. Romero.

Of course, the race for the Republican gubernatorial U.S. Senate nominations overshadowed all others in California as two female, former corporate executives, sailed to easy victory over their rivals. Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, won decisively over Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (a founder, by the way, of EdVoice). She will take on the Democratic state Attorney General Jerry Brown in November. Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina won the GOP Senate primary and will take on Democratic stalwart Barbara Boxer, who is seeking her fourth term.

In South Carolina, where the state chief’s race is a partisan one, Democrat Frank Holleman, who was a top aide to former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, won his primary with 56 percent of the vote. Who he will face in November won’t be decided until June 22 when the top two Republican vote-getters—a college president and a home-schooling mother—duke it out in a runoff.

Current South Carolina schools chief, Jim Rex, lost his bid to become the Democratic nominee for governor.

UPDATE: Larry Aceves, who captured the most votes of any of California’s state superintendent candidates, just called to chat about his surprise first-place finish. He is expecting to face off against Mr. Torlakson, who finished a hair behind Mr. Aceves.

Without a doubt, Mr. Aceves said, his newcomer status to elective politics and his years of experience actually running schools put him over the top, even against better-known, better-financed opponents.

“I think that people had the feeling that yes, it is time to put someone in this job that knows about what goes on inside classrooms,” Mr. Aceves said. I wonder too, how much it helped Mr. Aceves to have “retired superintendent” under his name on the ballot, especially in a race that few voters would have paid any attention to. Polls done more than a year ago strongly suggested that such a title was a boon to his candidacy.

Without naming names, Mr. Aceves said a campaign that stressed the dysfunction of California’s schools and the need for radical change may have misfired with voters. Ms. Romero ran on a message of being a pro-charter, aggressive reformer.

“The idea that we are going to blow things up and fire people, that didn’t sit well with people,” he said. “A lot of people love their schools and the teachers that their kids have.”

But Mr. Aceves stressed that the status quo isn’t acceptable either. He said all players in the state’s education realm, especially the teachers’ unions, are going to have to be willing to make changes that may be hard to swallow. Of course, how much change anyone in K-12 will be asked to make is going to depend much more on who ends up in the governor’s office.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States How States Are Testing the Church-State Divide in Public Schools
A new order to teach the Bible in Oklahoma is the latest action to fuel debate over the presence of religion in schools.
7 min read
Image of a bible sitting on top of a school backpack.
Canva
States Lawsuit Challenges Louisiana's New Ten Commandments Law
Opponents argue that the law is a violation of separation of church and state and will isolate students.
3 min read
A copy of the Ten Commandments is posted along with other historical documents in a hallway of the Georgia Capitol, Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. Civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit Monday, June 24, challenging Louisiana’s new law that requires the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every public school classroom.
A copy of the Ten Commandments is posted along with other historical documents in a hallway of the Georgia Capitol, Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. Civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit Monday, June 24, challenging Louisiana’s new law that requires the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every public school classroom.
John Bazemore/AP
States The Surprising Contenders for State Superintendent Offices This Year
Two elections for the top education leadership job feature candidates who have never worked in public schools.
8 min read
North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler announces the gathering of a task force to look into future options the state has for the assessment of students during a press conference May 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D.
North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler announces the gathering of a task force to look into future options for student assessment during a press conference May 8, 2015, in Bismarck, N.D. Baesler, the nation's longest-serving state schools chief, is running for a fourth term, facing opponents with no experience serving in public schools.
Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP
States Does a Ten Commandments Display in Classrooms Violate the Constitution?
Louisiana is poised to become the first state to require all schools to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms.
7 min read
Human hand holding a magnifying glass over open holy bible book of Exodus verses for Ten Commandments, top view
Marinela Malcheva/iStock/Getty