Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck split the vote in Tuesday’s race for superintendent of public instruction, setting up a high-profile November contest that could become a costly referendum on charter schools.
The candidates are backed by two of Sacramento’s most powerful special interest groups —Thurmond by the California Teachers Association and Tuck by the California Charter Schools Association. They’ve already dumped a combined $10 million into the race and are expected to spend even more in the months ahead.
With almost half of the vote counted, Tuck leads the field of four candidates with 38 percent. Thurmond captured 33 percent. And surprising some observers, the two lesser known candidates, Lily Ploski and Steven Ireland, each captured more than 10 percent. Unique among the statewide races, a candidate could have secured a win outright by garnering 50 percent plus one vote—but as the returns rolled in, it became clear that no one would clear that bar.
Thurmond, a Democratic state Assemblyman from Richmond, watched the returns at Los Moles, an El Cerrito restaurant that featured a taco bar and live salsa music. His supporters erupted in cheers when he arrived late after attending his daughter’s 6th grade graduation.
Asked about the prospect of a general election all about charter schools, Thurmond said such a race would miss the mark given the range of challenges California’s public schools face.
“We have a teacher shortage we should be talking about. We aren’t preparing young people for careers in technology, and we should be talking about that,” Thurmond said in an interview with CALmatters. “I wish those people who spent millions against me would have spent that money on making public education better.”
Tuck spent election night at home in Los Angeles, where he hosted a watch party for family and friends in his backyard. Reached over the phone shortly after 11 pm, he said he was pleased to be in first place and struggling to get his six-year-old to bed.
He, too said he hopes the November election won’t be dominated by the discussion about charter schools.
“The charter question doesn’t come up with my audiences the way it does in the media,” Tuck said. “Voters care that California’s schools aren’t serving kids well. They’re concerned about base funding levels. Not about this.”
Given former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s poor showing in the race for governor, and his billionaire donors’ strong support for charter schools, a quiet race for superintendent seems unlikely.