State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin declared victory Tuesday night over her challenger, Santa Ana first-grade teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, in their fast-finishing race for California’s top education post.
Tuchman had received a late boost in the campaign, fueled in part by a record-setting $500,000 contribution from computer fortune heir David W. Packard two weeks ago. But Eastin, who relied upon a more traditional coalition of teachers unions and Democratic Party organizations, led throughout the evening Tuesday.
“In the end, our grass-roots support made all the difference,” Eastin said by telephone from the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on Tuesday night. “That put us over the top despite the fact that my opponent got three-quarters of a million dollars in the last two weeks of the campaign. We had a lot of people who refused to quit.”
Tuchman, who watched returns with a small group of staff members, friends and family in a suite at The Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach, declined to comment Tuesday night.
Tuchman rose to political prominence as co-author of Proposition 227, the ballot initiative that effectively ended bilingual education in California two years ago. She trailed Eastin by significant margins in polls for most of the race, but her campaign was energized by Packard’s contribution – believed to be the largest single political donation in state history – which enabled her to mount a TV and radio blitz during the campaign homestretch.
Eastin said that Packard’s contribution – and other large donations from Orange County banking heir Howard Ahmanson Jr. and Wal-Mart heir John Walton – was evidence that Tuchman was a puppet of big-money Republicans who wanted to capitalize on her support of some form of school vouchers.
Tuchman countered that Eastin was obliged to the teachers unions and other education establishments that opposed reforms such as teacher competency testing. Tuchman styled herself as a “back to basics” candidate, while Eastin described her philosophy as “basics plus.”
Other differences between the candidates were made clear during the race, which was more spirited than the typical campaign for state schools superintendent.
Eastin, 51, a Democrat elected to the office in 1994, favors a system of bilingual education in which limited-English students receive instruction in their primary language and then transition to English-only classes after three or four years. She opposs giving standardized tests in English to kids who have yet to learn the language. She also backs an increase in spending from $5,789 per pupil to to the national average of $6,131.
Tuchman, 56, a Republican, a longtime teacher and former member of the Tustin Unified District School Board, played a prominent role in the effort to end bilingual education in the state. She argues that all children should be tested in English, regardless of their English fluency. Tuchman also opposes an increase in per-pupil standards, saying the Department of Education should be audited first.