Defeated in state race, Tuchman clings to school goals

Superintendent candidate remains committed to anti-bilingual Prop. 227.

The intimate dinners with piano-playing billionaires are over.

So are the televised debates, the barnstorming plane trips, the handshaking, the child-hugging and all the other trappings that added up to Gloria Matta Tuchman’s campaign for state superintendent of public instruction.

On Monday, Tuchman, 56, will return to her first-grade classroom at Taft Elementary School in Santa Ana and resume her teaching career, having lost Tuesday to incumbent Delaine Eastin.

And while she says she is “excited to be going back to the children again,” it is clear that some pain and bitterness remain from what turned out to be an unusually bruising contest for a lower-ticket office such as schools superintendent.

She hasn’t called to congratulate Eastin on her victory and says she doesn’t intend to. Her remarks Thursday were her first public statements since the polls closed nearly two days earlier, when her campaign consultant ordered a media blackout. Even after Eastin had declared victory, there was only silence from Tuchman’s suite at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach.

She agreed to an interview Thursday, but declined to speak in person or have her picture taken.

“I just need some R&R time,” she said by phone.

Still, it would be a mistake to assume that Tuchman is curled up in a corner with a box of tissues.

“I don’t feel defeated at all, I really don’t,” she said. “I don’t consider myself a loser in this race. This entire year has been like a dream.”

Despite her loss, Tuchman, a Republican, seems to have plenty to feel good about as 1998 draws to a close.

Along with Palo Alto entrepreneur Ron Unz, she led the successful campaign for Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” ballot initiative to end bilingual education.

And she won 47 percent of the vote Tuesday in a race in which she was given little chance, her cause bolstered by a dramatic, late $500,000 contribution from computer-fortune heir David W. Packard. The money was used to buy badly needed TV and radio time.

The half-million dollars aside, Packard provided one of Tuchman’s fondest campaign memories when he and his wife invited Tuchman and a few members of her staff to dinner in Palo Alto and then played piano for them before committing to the gigantic donation, believed to be the largest individual political gift ever.

Tuchman received a higher percentage of votes than any other losing Republican in a statewide race and actually polled nearly 75,000 more votes than GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren. She won Orange County by a 10 percentage point margin.

The poor performance Tuesday by Lungren and other top-of-the-ticket Republicans brought criticism from Tuchman, who complained that the GOP failed to understand the potency of education as a campaign issue.

“Our research from the very beginning showed that education was the No. 1 issue people cared about,” she said. “I told (the Republicans), ‘Please listen to me. We need to be talking about education. We spend 40 percent of the state budget on schools.’ But no one took me seriously.”

Instead, she said, Lungren seemed to talk mostly about crime, while winning Democrat Gray Davis spent considerable time talking about schools. That perception was widely affirmed by exit polls and commentators, although Lungren during the campaign did emphasize his support of vouchers and Proposition 8, which called for several education reforms.

“I think we all paid for that strategy,” Tuchman said. “With some help at the top of the ticket, we might have pulled it off. But I think our campaign did all we could do under the circumstances.”

Tuchman said her chief motive in running for state superintendent was to ensure that Prop. 227 is implemented properly, which remains her goal.

“Even within my own district, 227 is being subverted and people are playing games with it,” she said. “Yes, we made the language in 227 flexible, but people are taking advantage of that. I blame the state Department of Education (which Eastin heads) for that.”

Beyond that, she said, “I’m going to be Delaine Eastin’s conscience. I’m going to be what Jiminy Cricket was to Pinocchio. The ‘educrats’ have convinced everyone that the status quo is OK, but it’s not OK.”

Whether she will run for office again remains an open question, she said.

“I’m not going to fade away,” Tuchman said. “We’ve worked too hard and accomplished too much.”



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