Thurmond wins race for California state superintendent of public instruction

November 17, 2018

Tony Thurmond outside the Tenderloin Community School in San Francisco on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond has won the race for California state superintendent of public instruction, defeating Marshall Tuck in the nonpartisan contest.

Two million ballots have yet to be counted but in a tweet he issued this morning, Thurmond said Tuck had conceded the race in a “gracious call to congratulate me and wish me well.”

The most recent results showed Thurmond 152,000 votes ahead and leading Tuck 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent with 9 million votes tabulated.

“I intend to be a champion of public schools and a Superintendent for all California students,” said Thurmond said in a statement. “I ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction to deliver to all Californians the promise that public education delivered to me – that all students, no matter their background and no matter their challenges, can succeed with a great public education.”

The result will be not be official until all the votes are counted, and will be certified by the Secretary of State in early December.

In a lengthy statement issued to his supporters, Tuck said, “Given it has become clear that we are not going to win this campaign, I felt it was in the best interest of California’s children for me to concede now so that Assemblymember Thurmond has as much time as possible to plan to take over as State Superintendent.”

Thurmond is a two-term assemblyman representing parts of Oakland and other East Bay communities. A social worker by training, he ran several nonprofits serving children before turning to political office. He served both on the board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District and on the Richmond City Council.

Tuck  was formerly head of a charter school network and also directed a partnership of  public schools within Los Angeles Unified.

After the initial post-election count, Tuck was ahead by 86,000 votes. But mail-in and provisional ballots counted since then proved to be a gold mine for Thurmond. Thurmond has collected 238,000 more votes than Tuck out of the approximately 3 million ballots counted since Election Day.

According to EdSource estimates, a record-breaking nearly $60 million was spent on the race by the competing sides through direct contributions and through independent expenditure committees.

Even though both Thurmond and Tuck are Democrats, Thurmond benefited from getting the official endorsement of the California Democratic Party, as well as some of the party’s most prominent elected officials, such as Sen. Kamala Harris and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

He was also backed by the California Teachers Association and other labor unions representing education workers and university faculty. At the same time, he had to fend off a well-financed, and often negative, campaign mounted by charter school advocates who poured money into an independent expenditure committee set up to defeat his candidacy.

CTA president Eric Heins said electing Gavin Newsom governor and Thurmond state superintendent were his union’s top priority. “It’s clear that educators played a pivotal role in this election,” he said, pointing to phone banking, door to door canvassing and other activities by union members on behalf of Thurmond.

One indication of the potency of labor backing in this race is that every state superintendent of public instruction over the past 24 years — Delaine Eastin, Jack O’Connell and current incumbent Tom Torlakson — was endorsed by teachers unions. Like Thurmond, Eastin, O’Connell and Torlakson all served in the Legislature before they ran for state superintendent of public instruction.

This was the second time that Tuck had made a run for the office, both times mounting a vigorous campaign, and both times falling short.  “I remind myself that winning the election isn’t the end goal,” he said in the statement he issued today.  “The end goal is that all children in this state and country, regardless of background, get access to quality public schools.”

Thurmond’s victory also means that for only the second time an African American will occupy the post.  The last was the near-legendary Wilson Riles, who was defeated by Bill Honig in 1982 after serving three terms.

In fact, Riles and Thurmond will be the only people of color to occupy the post, in a state where children of color comprise over three quarters of California’s 6 million student body.

For updated results on the race, go to EdSource’s vote tracker here

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