California rarely has competitive elections for its statewide offices.
Since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection in 2006, no Republican has won across California and only a few have come close. With GOP voter registration now below 30 percent, Republicans’ time in the wilderness will likely be long and cold.
But this November, there is one race in which Republicans can and should cast their ballot.
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction is California’s top education officer. A non-partisan seat, the education officer is supposed to serve as an advocate for school children, parents and local districts across the state. Unfortunately, the job is typically held by whomever the California Teachers Association favors most leaving California families without a needed ally in education.
(AP Photo/Aberdeen American News, Kevin Bennett)
Largely because of this, California’s schools have been locked in stasis for 20 years in terms of achievement. Today, the Golden State ranks 45th in terms of reading and math – ahead of only Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia and New Mexico. For a state that is home to the world’s finest public universities, Silicon Valley, and the largest creative industry on the planet, this is wholly unacceptable. Never has the need for change been more critical now.
Because the position of education officer is non-partisan, the two candidates on the ballot, Marshall Tuck and incumbent Tom Torlakson, will face voters without a party label next to their names. Despite the fact that both are registered Democrats, they are worlds apart on how to improve public education in California and conservatives may be surprised that to find an ally in Tuck.
At the age of 28, Tuck left a successful career in California’s tech sector to devote his life to improving education for public school kids. He was a co-founder of Green Dot charter schools and was tapped to take over 17 failing schools in South Los Angeles. After just one year, his schools had the highest improvement rates of any in the state.
Meanwhile, the incumbent, Tom Torlakson, has held one elective office after another for 36 years. He rarely, if ever, goes against the wishes of the teachers association or other Sacramento special interests and is the safe choice for them – he will espouse no radical policy change and nothing that will upset the hegemony the teachers unions have spent decades building.
Marshall Tuck. Photo Credit: MarshallTuck.com
Nowhere is Torlakson’s role as teachers association pet more evident than in his decision to side with association and appeal the recent teacher tenure ruling, Vergara vs. California, handed down earlier this summer in Los Angeles.
Nine California school children sued the state (with Torlakson named as defendant) on grounds that the state’s teacher tenure, retention and dismissal rules made it impossible for students to receive a fair and equitable education, as required by the state constitution.
In his landmark ruling where he sided with the students, Judge Rolf M. Treu declared that evidence of how teacher tenure laws are applied and abused, “shocks the conscience.” In California today, a public school teacher receives teacher tenure after two years in the classroom – and the recommendation for tenure must be approved after only 16 months.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that California’s current laws harm public school students, Tom Torlakson, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Gov. Jerry Brown appealed the trial court’s ruling to an appellate court at the behest of the state teachers union.
Given the opportunity to side with kids or special interests, Sacramento politicians did not think twice about whom to support. Tuck, unlike Torlakson, stands with the kids who sued and will withdraw the superintendent’s appeal as soon as elected.
The results of this election reach far beyond California.
This Feb. 20, 2014 photo provided by the Torlakson campaign shows incumbent California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in Sacramento, Calif. The race for state schools superintendent in California is typically a sleepy affair, but this year it has become a proxy fight in the nation's largest public school system, between unions wanting to maintain the status quo and reformers seeking greater accountability and parental choice. (AP Photo/Torlakson campaign, Norbert von der Groben)
Not only will electing Marshall Tuck send a signal to national education special interests, it will also show that a coalition of Republicans and Democrats who have decided to shed simple partisanship can take on an issue that stares many of us in the face everyday. Rarely has “as California goes, so goes the nation” been a positive.
Conservatives can and should make a difference in California this year. We have the opportunity to help our kids immensely and topple the strongest monopoly in California politics in the bargain. Our kids deserve better than they’re getting – all students do.
Voting for Marshall Tuck on November 4 will be an enormous step in that direction.
Reed Galen is a Republican political consultant in California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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