Though California’s Republican Party is fighting for its survival, California’s Democrats are struggling with deep divisions that have come to the surface in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Though the office is technically nonpartisan, the superintendent’s race is the only statewide contest in California’s troubled “jungle” primary system that produced two Democrats, Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck, in the primary election.
At the core of the fight among Democrats is a battle over education reform–one that is being fought hardest in California, but which is taking place in state capitals and city councils around the country. On one side are the teachers’ unions, the very core of the Democratic Party’s union muscle, which put their members’ interests first. On the other are an ambitious generation of reformers, struggling to break the unions stranglehold on policy.
The battle between Torlakson and Tuck, the Capitol Weekly reports, focuses on the recent ruling in Vergara v. California, which struck down much of the state’s teacher tenure system, ruling that it actually discriminated against minority students stuck with bad teachers in failing public schools.
Tuck, who leads his rival 31% to 28% in a recent Field poll, has long worked in the school reform movement and has supported the Vergara ruling.
“I strongly agree with the judge’s decision. I strongly side with the students in the case. And I think we need to get moving, right now, as a state in putting forward a solution and not waiting for this to wind through the courts,” Tuck said in a recent debate between the two candidates.
Torlakson, by contrast, supports Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to appeal Vergara. “It’s fundamentally flawed. It’s wrong on the facts. It’s wrong on the law,” he said.
That is the key dividing issue between the two candidates, though both say they support unions and greater funding for public schools.
Indeed, the two look more like a stereotype of the state’s Republican Party–white, male, elite–than its Democrats. Yet this race is where the state’s political future may, in fact, be decided.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the forthcoming ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak