Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Robert Macias marks his ballot for the California primary at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office in Sacramento on June 7, 2022.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond appears headed for a runoff election in November, although the results are too close to say who’ll be running against him.

With all counties reporting, as early Wednesday, Thurmond received 45.7% of the vote, short of the 50% needed to win outright. Three candidates are bunched together for second, led by Ainye Long, a math teacher in San Francisco Unified and the only woman of the seven candidates, with 11.7%.

Right behind her with 11.6% – a difference of 1,818 votes – are George Yang, an engineer from Menlo Park and former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and Lance Christensen, with 11.4%. Christensen has served as the vice president of education policy at the California Policy Center, a conservative think tank, and worked for 15 years in the California State Senate as a consultant, legislative director, and chief of staff for a Republican senator.

Results could shift in coming days, as mail-in ballots dropped off or mailed on Election Day and delayed in-person ballots in some precincts are reported.

Thurmond did best, with 57% of the vote, in Alameda County, where he lives and served two terms in the Legislature, but got only 41% in San Diego County, where the San Diego Union-Tribune endorsed Christensen, who got 17% there.

Turnout statewide was only 16%, less than half of the 38% of registered voters who voted in the last gubernatorial primary, in June 2018.

Although the office of the state superintendent is technically nonpartisan, and candidates don’t list their party affiliation on the ballot, Thurmond would head into November with the full support of the state Democratic Party and employee unions. He raised $2.2 million so far, with $736,000 unspent. The California Teachers Association’s independent political action committee has raised $1.2 million to spend on his candidacy.

Yang, who was endorsed by the California Republican Assembly, a voters organization, raised the next highest amount, though only about 1/20th of Thurmond’s haul – $59,000, with only $15,000 left unspent, as of May 25th. “I’m taking it easy today but we are meeting Saturday to chart a path moving forward,” Yang said Wednesday. “I am running as if I am winning and hope that I get on the ballot.”

Christensen, who entered the race too late to file a candidate’s statement for the official statewide mailer, raised $39,000. As a drafter of a proposed private school choice initiative that didn’t make it to the ballot, he could count on support from advocates of school choice if he makes the runoff. He was endorsed by the state Republican Party.

“Tony did not get 50% of the vote, which is instructive,” said Christensen. “A lot of people believe he has not done much to produce outcomes people expect.”

Long, the only teacher in the race, chairs the math department at the Willie Brown Middle School in San Francisco. She said she has raised under $2,000 for the campaign, although she didn’t file a campaign finance report to the state Secretary of State.

She previously served as director of parent and community engagement for the California Charter Schools Association, and was the Oakland regional superintendent at Amethod Public Schools, which runs charter schools in Oakland and Richmond. But she shouldn’t be pigeonholed as “the charter school candidate,” she said. A graduate of  Berkeley High and UC Santa Cruz, she said, “I’ve been advocating for high-quality public education for 20 years” during a “non-linear, unique career path” that led to work with charter schools and now San Francisco Unified, where she said she’s happy to be a tenured teacher and dues-paying member of the teachers union.

Thurmond was elected to his first term in 2018. He had a rocky start, with a turnover of staff and anonymous complaints in a news story about creating a poisonous work environment. Then Covid closed schools, and Thurmond and the Department of Education faced challenges helping districts cope with a series of crises through the difficult reopenings with facial masks for students and teachers. He helped raise millions of dollars to equip families with computers and internet connections for online teaching and learning. He has created task forces to promote early literacy and the recruitment of more teachers of color to help solve a teacher shortage.

Thurmond’s campaign had not yet issued a statement on the election.

California law doesn’t allow for an automatic recount in a very close statewide election. In most cases, a losing candidate would have to request and pay for it in every county – an expensive undertaking. However, the state could pay for a recount in a state superintendent of instruction primary election if the difference between the second and third candidates is less than 1,000 votes or less than 15 thousandths of 1 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s office. 

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  1. Morrie J 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Everything Tiny Thurmond does, is driven by the CTA. CTA can drop 1 million on a state superintendent and this is democracy?

  2. Eleanor 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Smart money is on Thurmond easily gliding to reelection. Don’t know why Christensen and Yang bother. This is California. There is no way either of them are electable.

  3. Richard Golfer 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Sad to see a highly qualified candidate like Christensen get so few votes. The incumbent is a former school board member for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, one of the poorest performing school districts in the state. He's also in the pocket of the teachers union, to the point they order him around like a five-year-old. This trend toward a one party state - the whole state being run by the Democratic party … Read More

    Sad to see a highly qualified candidate like Christensen get so few votes. The incumbent is a former school board member for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, one of the poorest performing school districts in the state. He’s also in the pocket of the teachers union, to the point they order him around like a five-year-old. This trend toward a one party state – the whole state being run by the Democratic party – is going to lead to political corruption.

    A vibrant two party system keeps the politicians honest, the other party – weather it be Republican or Democrat – will keep the other side honest. It was no surprise to me so few voted, you had all these appointees on the ballot, the AG, the Secretary of State, our US Senator – all of whom were financed by billionaire high tech moguls and greedy labor union bosses. Democrats claim our “Democracy is at risk”, yet the party’s standard bearers are all in bed with these Silicon Valley high tech moguls, who are not regulated in any way check (check out the fake commercials on YouTube that run all day long, commercials designed to trick seniors citizens out of their money!) So Thurmond’s first place finish last night is no blessing to the voters; our schools will never improve under his watch.

  4. Brenda Lebsack - Calif Teacher 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    As a teacher and member of the CTA, I heard Tony Thurmond speak at a CTA Conference on April 23, 2022. He said that CRT is not being taught through Ethnic Studies in K-12 schools. He criticized the Placentia Yorba Linda School District board for passing a resolution to ban CRT in their school district. Toby Boyd, the President of CTA, echoed this same message. Who is telling these leaders what … Read More

    As a teacher and member of the CTA, I heard Tony Thurmond speak at a CTA Conference on April 23, 2022. He said that CRT is not being taught through Ethnic Studies in K-12 schools. He criticized the Placentia Yorba Linda School District board for passing a resolution to ban CRT in their school district. Toby Boyd, the President of CTA, echoed this same message. Who is telling these leaders what to say? Because they obviously are not doing their own research or fact finding.

    The NEA does endorse CRT in grades K-12 (go here).
    In fact, my school district (Santa Ana Unified) adopted an Ethnic Studies curriculum where white supremacy (and Judeo/Christian mores regarding gender and sexuality) are blamed for any negative
    challenges facing children of color.

    We need educational leaders who think for themselves and do their own homework, especially before they make public statements that can easily be disproven. I showed them the evidence, however they will not even make a public correction. I guess if you say a lie long enough, people will believe you… and that’s what these leaders seem to count on.