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CA Legislative Update: Race for Superintendent of Public Instruction Looms Large

Branché Jones

July 16, 2014


With less than four months remaining before the November general election, interests groups in the state are gearing up for legislative and statewide races.
Republicans, who have been shut-out of statewide office, are eyeing two opportunities to capture a statewide office: Secretary of State and Controller. Both races are wide open, though Democrats hold a large lead in voter registration in the state. The Secretary of State’s office has no clear front runner and the Controller’s race is stuck in a messy recount on the Democratic side between Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and former Assembly Speaker John Perez. The winner will face the Mayor of Fresno, Republican Ashley Swearengin, but the recount could go on for months.
The race that has really captured the attention of the education community and Sacramento interests groups is the race for Superintendent for Public Instruction. In that race the incumbent, former longtime Democratic legislator Tom Torlakson, received 1,767,257 votes or 46.5% of the vote. He will face off in November against Democrat Marshall Tuck who previously ran the Green Dot Public Schools and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for LA Schools. He received 1,098,441 votes or 28.9%.
What makes the race interesting is that Lydia Gutierrez, the Republican, received 931,719 votes or 24.5%. Torlakson was heavily supported by the California Teacher’s union and the usual Democratic Sacramento interests. The teacher’s union spent several million dollars on his behalf in the race. Tuck was supported by individual educational philanthropists and a host of moderate Democrats. So the question for November is where will the Republican votes that Ms. Gutierrez received go? It is unlikely that Torlakson will pick them up which could deprive him of receiving over 50% of the vote; if Tuck can secure those votes and increase his own Democratic totals he could be primed for an upset victory using a very unique coalition.
This could mean a sea change at the Department of Education for folks engaging the department on numerous issues. Charter schools have had a tough time working with the department and a change in leadership may mean a change in direction as well. This has tempted a number of educational reform groups to get involved in the race and clearly the Teacher’s union will make this election a top priority.
It remains to be seen who will be able to claim a November victory.

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