In the supposedly nonpartisan race for state schools chief, talk of California children has somehow vanished amid accusations of homophobia, racism and out-and-out lying.
Things got ugly in the superintendent’s race this week after a campaign flyer from challenger Gloria Matta Tuchman, a first-grade teacher, pointed mockingly to seven supporters of incumbent Delaine Eastin.
“Look who Eastin Proudly Lists As Endorsers,” the flyer said, naming the California Teachers Association, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, the Alice B. Toklas Gay/Lesbian Democratic Club and three female politicians from Southern California.
“These are three prominent lesbians, a gay and lesbian political organization, teachers and a black man,” said Mike Marshall, Eastin’s campaign manager. “Eastin has more than 3,000 contributors, and over 500 organizations and elected officials have endorsed her. But Gloria Matta Tuchman pulls out these names and suggests there is something wrong with them. Why?”
“We just did,” Tuchman said. “They don’t support what I support.”
California’s superintendent is the state’s only nonpartisan constitutional office. Education, the thinking goes, is supposed to transcend contentious politics. Everyone is on one side — the children’s.
Flashes of gentility have in fact been evident in the Eastin-Tuchman debates so far. Each has talked about academic standards, how best to teach reading and whether the new state test should have started this past spring or next spring.
But with less than two weeks before the November 3 election that will determine who runs the nation’s largest school system for the next four years, the race has become highly partisan. Tuchman supporters are staunchly Republican, while Democrats firmly back Eastin.
As for the candidates, angry faxes from each campaign have eclipsed the talk about schools.
Yesterday, Eastin did not buy Tuchman’s mild explanation of the campaign flyer.
“No homophobe ever says they’re homophobic,” said the superintendent. “I don’t want to call names and point fingers. It’s intended to appeal to a group of people who are in fact homophobic.”
The inclusion of Brown’s name was intended to appeal to the “racist element in society,” said Eastin, likening the association to an incident years ago, when Republican lawmakers in Sacramento apologized for placing Brown’s photograph above the name of candidate Leo McCarthy in an anti-McCarthy flyer.
“They called it an honest mistake,” Eastin said.
But Tuchman said it is Eastin who is making the mistake. “It is not my intent to discriminate,” she said.
The slugfest between the educators began this summer, when Tuchman accused Eastin’s Department of Education of manipulating bilingual education figures.
As a co-author of Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education measure that passed in June, Tuchman was incensed when several school districts reported that graduates of bilingual programs had outperformed native English speakers on achievement tests.
“Somebody is lying,” she said. “Somebody is manipulating the numbers. Now, if you want evidence, no one told me. I am assuming this. I smell a rat.”
Then Eastin smelled a rat. She accused Tuchman of being a closet creationist. Tuchman countered by saying she cannot be a creationist since her husband is Jewish.
But Eastin insisted that a number of threads connect Tuchman to a Christian right-wing agenda.
For example, nearly half of Tuchman’s campaign is financed by banking heir Howard Ahmanson, who has given millions of dollars to political causes of the Christian right and has sat on the board of the anti-gay Chalcedon Institute.
Eastin’s campaign sent out its own flyer showing that Tuchman was scheduled to appear at a fund-raiser for David Wiebe, a candidate for Riverside County superintendent who supports creationism in the schools.
“She said she’s not a creationist, but if you go and attend an event, then you’re being identified with their supporters,” Eastin said. “This is what these extremists do. They try to pretend they’re centrist. But if David Duke invited me to go to an event for him, I wouldn’t go.”
Tuchman countered: “She wants to tarnish my reputation. It’s not my understanding” that appearing at a fund-raiser indicates support.
But guilt by association was essential to understanding the campaign flyer Tuchman sent out that pointed to Eastin’s endorsers.
Besides Brown, the teachers union and the Toklas club, the three women named were Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, San Diego City Council member Christine Kehoe and former Los Angeles school board member and current City Council member Jackie Goldberg.
“The impression is clearly that I shouldn’t be proud of these endorsements,” Eastin said. “And that goes to the heart of the matter — the suggestion that you should be ashamed to be endorsed by teachers, Mayor Willie Brown, and gays and lesbians who are duly elected.”
Tuchman said there is nothing wrong with such groups as the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club. “It’s just like the Playboy Club. They endorse Delaine Eastin’s policies,” she said.
Tuchman has linked Eastin with the Playboy Club several times, and Eastin responds by saying she has received a $200 contribution from a man who used to work for the club.
“When they repeat things over and over again, and they don’t make an effort to find out the facts, then you have to believe it’s intentional,” Eastin said. “It’s lying.”
Polls show voters still know little of either candidate. Ultimately, the race may come down to which side has more money for television ads.
Eastin backers fear that a last-minute flood of cash from Ahmanson and other members of the political right could give Tuchman the boost she needs to win.
Tuchman backers say the superintendent is in the pockets of “the educrats” like the teachers unions that are financing much of her campaign.