States

Turnover in Governors to Influence Schools

By Joetta L. Sack — November 09, 2004 6 min read
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Governors’ races in 11 states ended last week with two ousted incumbents and at least four turnovers in party control—changes that will likely leave an imprint on K-12 budgets and policies.

Following several unexpectedly tight races, seven states elected new governors, but the balance between the two major parties remained largely undisturbed. Republicans were expected to win at least five of the 11 governors’ races, including hard-fought seats in Indiana and Missouri. Democrats scored a big upset in New Hampshire and took control of Montana’s highest office, while the contest in Washington state remained too close to call as of press time.

John Lynch, a Democratic businessman who won last week's election for governor of New Hampshire.

With governors playing pivotal roles in shaping education budgets and policies in their states—and in complying with the federal No Child Left Behind Act—the outcome of those races will undoubtedly be felt in schools. But some political observers said the switches should not have a major impact on national education policy.

“The message in these results is no major upheaval in direction,” said G. Thomas Houlihan, the executive director of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers. “By and large, it’s pretty much a status quo election in terms of how that affects education.”

Mr. Houlihan noted, though, that the new governors will be faced with the many intricacies of the No Child Left Behind law, which seeks to raise educational expectations and accountability. Most will likely want to lobby for some changes in the nearly 3-year-old measure, he said.

In Utah, Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. easily won the race for governor, after a bruising primary and general election that focused heavily on education.

Mr. Huntsman supported a plan that would offer vouchers for special education students, an issue many said was a driving factor in the defeat of Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. in the general election, and earlier, of the failure of incumbent Republican Gov. Olene S. Walker to secure a spot in the primary. (“Nomination Vetoed,” State Journal, May 19, 2004.) Mr. Matheson, the dean of the University of Utah’s law school, was seen as the Democrats’ best hope in many years for taking control of an office that they have not held in more than two decades.

Mr. Huntsman’s campaign spokesman, Jason Chavetz, said that the economy was a top issue in the campaign, but that voters saw ties between enhancing education and improving the state’s economy. “A big part of our support came from voters who cared about education,” he said.

Surprise in N.H.

What appeared to be the biggest upset victory for Democrats came in New Hampshire. Although the state has a strong Republican tradition, Democratic businessman John Lynch narrowly ousted the conservative GOP incumbent, Gov. Craig R. Benson, who was elected to a two-year term in 2002. The outcome paralleled a small Democratic margin in New Hampshire’s presidential vote.

Gubernatorial Race Results

Democrats and Republicans split the governors’ races, with the outcome in Washington too close to call at press time. Winners are in bold.

State Candidates % of Vote
Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) 50.9%
Bill Lee (R) 45.8%
Frank Infante (I/L) 3.3%
Indiana Gov. Joseph E. Kernan (D) 45.4%
Mitch Daniels (R) 53.3%
Kenn Gividen (L) 1.3%
Missouri Claire C. McCaskill (D) 47.8%
Matt Blunt (R) 50.9%
John M. Swenson (L) .9%
Montana Brian Schweitzer (D) 50%
Bob Brown (R) 46%
New Hampshire John Lynch (D) 51%
Gov. Craig Benson (R) 49%
North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley (D) 55%
Patrick Ballantine (R) 43%
North Dakota Joe Satrom (D) 27.4%
Gov. John Hoeven (R) 71.3%
Utah Scott Matheson Jr. (D) 42.7%
Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) 56.4%
Vermont Peter Clavelle (D) 38%
Gov. Jim Douglas (R) 59%
Washington Christine O. Gregoire (D) 49%
Dino Rossi (R) 49%
West Virginia Joe Manchin III (D) 63%
Monty Warner (R) 34%

The campaign was dominated by debates over taxes and ethical issues concerning Mr. Benson’s administration, but long-running school funding issues also played a role. The candidates, both millionaires from the business world, had each opposed paying for schools with new general-income or sales taxes.

Gov. Benson, however, pushed for an amendment to the state constitution that would have limited the state courts’ authority to intervene in school finance issues. Mr. Lynch strongly opposed the measure.

With legislators expected to make another stab at rewriting the state’s controversial school funding formula, the election may make a difference both on funding questions and the divisive issue of private school vouchers. During the last legislative session, New Hampshire lawmakers turned back four attempts—the last time by just one vote—to establish programs to provide tuition assistance for students at religious and secular private schools. While Gov. Benson strongly backed vouchers, Mr. Lynch opposes them.

That means that Mr. Lynch may face a fight when school choice measures arise again in the coming legislative session, said Terry Shumaker, the executive director of the 16,000-member National Education Association-New Hampshire, which had endorsed Mr. Lynch. “He’s got his work cut out for him,” Mr. Shumaker said, “because we will have a very Republican, very conservative legislature.”

Schools an Issue in N.C.

In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Michael F. Easley was re-elected, as were incumbent Republican Govs. Jim Douglas in Vermont and John Hoeven in North Dakota.

Gov. Easley, who won by a comfortable margin over his Republican challenger, Patrick Ballantine, has pledged over the next four years to expand a preschool program for disadvantaged 4-year-olds. Mr. Easley has also said he will push for a state lottery, with proceeds going to education programs and school construction, and for smaller high schools.

Faced with severe budget deficits, Mr. Easley has spared K-12 schools the kind of cuts he has made elsewhere in government, said John N. Dornan, the executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan research group in Raleigh. “He will keep the momentum going on high school reform and high standards,” Mr. Dornan said.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, a Democrat, also easily won re-election, despite controversy over high-stakes graduation exams in her state. Her Republican opponent, Bill Lee, a retired judge who also ran against her in 2000, had hoped to capitalize on opposition to the testing system.

Economic issues trumped education in several closely watched races. In Indiana, for instance, Republican Mitch Daniels, the former director of the White House Office of Budget and Management for President Bush, soundly defeated Democratic Gov. Joseph E. Kernan. Mr. Kernan is finishing out the term of Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon, who died in office in September 2003.

Republicans took control of the Missouri governor’s mansion as well, with Secretary of State Matt Blunt defeating State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

And in West Virginia, Democrat Joe Manchin III, who is currently the secretary of state, cruised to victory over Monty Warner, a Republican, and Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson, to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Bob Wise.

Washington’s Democratic candidate, state Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire, was clinging to a slight lead late last week over opponent Dino Rossi, a Republican legislator. The race was so close that it was expected to take at least a week after polls closed to count absentee ballots.

Associate Editor Debra Viadero and Staff Writer Vaishali Honawar contributed to this report.

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