State Supt. Tony Thurmond likely to face runoff election in November

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 of midnight Tuesday, 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 incoming days, as mail-in ballots dropped off or mailed on Election Day and delayed ballot counting 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.

Long, the only teacher in the race, chairs the math department at the Willie Brown Middle School in San Francisco. She didn’t file a report to the state Secretary of State about campaign spending. She previously served two years 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 six charter schools in Oakland and Richmond. She might be able to count on contributions for charter advocates if she makes the November ballot.

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

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 of 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.

“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.”

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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State Supt. Tony Thurmond likely to face runoff election in November

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